Dilbert - addicted to email
March 27, 2019

The Number One App That You Can’t Live Without

Have you ever thought about which app you use day in, day out, that you can’t live without? The app that you don’t replace whenever a new social media wind blows? The app that has proven to withstand the true test of time?

Reid Hoffman, billionaire founder of LinkedIn, member of the PayPal Mafia and one of Silicon Valley’s most prolific angel investors, sees and/or invests in a plethora of great apps. Facebook, Airbnb, Digg, Flickr, Instagram and Dropbox are just some of the most successful apps that have Hoffman’s signature on them, either directly or through his VC firm, Greylock Partners.

So, of all the apps that Hoffman sees, tests, uses and/or invests in, what app can’t he live without?

We’ll give you a clue. It’s the same app that is listed on nearly all of the top 50 articles that came up on our Google search for “app you can’t live without”.

Can you guess the app?


Dilbert - addicted to email


The number one app

That’s right, it’s email.

With 2,784,259 emails being sent worldwide every second, Hoffman is not alone. We can’t live without email.

In fact, according to a 2017 Adobe consumer email survey of 1,000+ white-collar workers in the United States, the average respondent is so obsessed with email that they spend 5.4 hours each weekday checking email (3.3 hours on work email and 2.1 hours on personal email). That’s around 35 percent of their entire day! 26 percent checked email before they even got out of bed.

So, why, despite new messaging apps such as Facebook and Slack, do people still have a love affair with email?

1. Email gives us hope

Despite the fact that our inboxes are full of emails that we quickly trash, there’s something endlessly inspiring about opening our inbox that’s akin to “lottery brain” – that adaptive part of us that searches for hope and a sense of possibility, says Nancy Colier in Psychology Today.

2. Email makes us feel good

“Part of the reason that we love email so much is that our brains are wired to seek completion. When you recognize a task as complete, your brain releases dopamine, which makes you feel good and makes you want to repeat the behavior again to feel more pleasure,” writes Jocelyn Glei, author of Unsubscribe.

It’s called Operant Conditioning – a well-known concept in psychology to describe the learning process through which the strength of a behaviour is modified by reinforcement or punishment.

“When you check your email, you are expecting that you will get a new message. You don’t get one every time, so you keep coming back, subconsciously hoping that “this time I’ll have a new email!” And then you hit refresh, even repeatedly within the span of just a few seconds, waiting for your behavior (the act of checking) to be rewarded (a new email),” says Ashley Coolman.

3. Email is a welcome distraction

With mostly brief messages requiring mostly minimal attention, email regularly serves as a welcome distraction to what we should otherwise be focussing on. Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, says:

“If you think about […] the internal trigger to check email, well, there’re plenty: there’s boredom, there’s anxiety, there’s insecurity about what I’m doing in my job. All of these internal triggers can be satiated a little bit by checking our email.”

4. Email is the lifeblood of our communications

“Email is the lowest common denominator. It’s the way you get communications from one person to another. There isn’t really an alternative. Sometimes people will have Facebook messenger turned on, but 99 percent of the time if you’re sending a message to a human you don’t know well you’re using email,” says Slack’s co-founder, Stewart Butterfield.

5. Email is our identity and knowledge repository

It’s who we are. It’s how people know how to contact us online. It’s where we store the bulk of our valuable data. It’s the reason we’re increasingly willing to upgrade from a free to a paid email service, or pay for more email storage, rather than go through the pain of transferring to a different email provider, or worse still, cleaning up the gigabytes in our current email files.

“Over the years, email has quietly evolved to be the key to our entire online presence,” says Jay Sil. “Most online retailers and service providers, from your bank to the likes of Amazon, eBay and Facebook, use your email address. They rely on your email for sign up and if there are problems or they need a way to communicate with you outside of their app, again, they rely on your email address.”

Dela Quist, author, speaker and a recognised authority on digital and email marketing, echoes this sentiment:

“Without [email] you can’t shop online, bank online or engage with social media… To not have an email address is the digital equivalent of being homeless.”


Think we’re wrong?

If you don’t think that email is the number one app that you can’t live without, we challenge you to disable your email app(s) for a week, or better yet, a full month.

Let us know how you go.


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