The Psychology Behind What The Number Of Unread Emails You Have Says About You

<span class="copyright">subman via Getty Images</span>
subman via Getty Images

Can I let you in on something? I currently have 20,000 unread emails in my inbox. I think nothing of it. It never even occurs to me until a friend looks over my shoulder and sees that dreaded red dot with the shameful number centred.

When my friends ask how I live like that, I never know how to answer because I just don’t care, and don’t think it says much about me other than I really need to unsubscribe from a fair few newsletters.

However, according to psychologist Larry Rosen, PhD, how we approach our emails can say a lot about who we are.

What our number of unread emails says about us

Speaking to Business Insider, Rosen said that, actually, keeping on top of your emails could be an indicator of anxiety.

He said: “A huge, exploding inbox releases stress-based neurotransmitters, like cortisol, which make them anxious.”

On the other side, people like me that simply don’t care, could actually be masking another kind of anxiety. He said that even thinking of trying to get on top of thousands of emails can create a level of stress that just feels easier to ignore.

I, personally, feel called out.

Social psychologist Ron Friedman also told Business Insider that ignoring email “can also mean that you recognise that [monitoring and organising those emails] isn’t helping you achieve progress,” adding that recognition is “a sign of intelligence.”

However, purging and managing your emails is actually important, even if not doing so is a ‘sign of intelligence.’

The environmental impact of unread emails

According to Thales: “Every online activity undertaken results in a few grams of carbon dioxide being emitted due to the energy needed to run your devices and power the wireless networks you access.

“In parallel, the data centres and vast services required to support the internet are also highly energy intensive. It’s an important fact: sending an email causes CO2 emission.

“Moreover, storage also emits CO2, more precisely 10g for one year of storage on average for an email.”

Yes, you read that right, even your emails have a carbon footprint.

Speaking to the BBC, Mike Berners-Lee, an expert in carbon footprints, said: “While the carbon footprint of an email isn’t huge, it’s a great illustration of the broader principle that cutting the waste out of our lives is good for our wellbeing and good for the environment.”

The BBC also revealed that the average user receives 2,850 unwanted emails every year from subscriptions, which are responsible for 28.5kg (63lbs) CO2e and if every adult in the UK sent one less “thank you” email, it could save 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year – the equivalent to taking 3,334 diesel cars off the road.

So, it may be worth having that clearout and maybe not letting it hit 20,000 unread emails.