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Communications Science

How Darwin Managed His Inbox 214

Posted by Zonk
from the not-easy-when-there-is-no-reply-all dept.
An anonymous reader wrote to mention an MSNBC article on how Darwin and Einstein managed their inboxes. From the article: "A new study finds that the correspondence of Albert Einstein, as well as that of Charles Darwin, followed patterns similar to modern e-mail communication. Einstein sent more than 14,500 letters. But he received more than 16,200, and responded to only a quarter of them. Darwin mailed more than 7,500 letters. He responded to 32 percent of the roughly 6,530 letters he received."
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How Darwin Managed His Inbox

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  • by fm2503 (876331) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:16AM (#13888682)
    But how many Rolexs did each of them buy via special offer correspondance, and did anything that turned up in the post make their wife any happier?
  • only? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gtrubetskoy (734033) *

    Einstein sent more than 14,500 letters.

    That's in his lifetime. Since 1998, I sent 27,171 emails (granted, an e-mail is much easier to sent than a snail mail letter). It's hard for me to count how many I received (counting spam it's probably in the millions).

    • Re:only? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Narcissus (310552) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:45AM (#13888877) Homepage
      How many of those, though, were really just multiple parts of a 'conversation'?

      I know I can rack up dozens of emails when I start using it like an IM service. However I doubt Einstein would write something like "So, what time do you want me to come around on Friday?" and then wait for a reply before continuing with "and do you want me to bring anything?"
      • Re:only? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by jsveiga (465473) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @12:02PM (#13889469)
        On "Selected Letters on Evolution and Origin of Species", it is interesting that some of the letters really have a conversation "sequence", considering the long "latency" time between each packet. This was specially true during Darwin's trip, but also when he was at home.

        Something like we will experience when exchanging emails with colonies on other planets or solar systems: You write, and your grandson gets the answer.

        When a quick response was expected, they'd send a messenger and ask that recipient answered by return mail (and the messenger would wait for the answer to be written).

        Also, something as easy as sending an article you wrote for a friend to review (attach/send today) would require that someone hand-copied your writings or that you send the only original and wait for it to come back with the review. You didn't keep a copy on your "sent items".

        In the book, Darwin's son says his father was troubled by the chore of processing mails, and spent a lot of time just doing that.

        Those were the times.
        • Those were the times.

          Yes, those were the times without TiVo, NetFlix, Personal Computers, or Slashdot. Instead of watching TV and movies for two hours a day, and playing on-line FPS games for two hours, and reading Slashdot for three hours, they read and wrote letters -- with no spell checker no less.

          They also, probably, didn't have jobs that required them to sit at a desk looking at dumps and C++ code for 8 hours a day.

          • by shawb (16347)
            People doing Darwin's job today would probably be research professors working at a University. Or more realistically, it would be the grad students under the professors doing most of the work, while the professor does the letter writing and other correspondance. Ahd then goes on sabattical every now and then to collect some data ala voyaging on the Beagle (with grad students in tow to do the dirty work.)

            Most people in that era probably didn't live the sort of life that a Darwin did, Erasmus Darwin (Cha
            • Universal Common Ancestry was widely believed even before Darwin's grandfather. Darwin's was not bold in saying that there was common ancestry, but instead that all the transformations that were accomplished happened without any notion of purpose or looking ahead.

              Darwin did hold some Lamarckian ideas, but still beleived that the direction that the change took place was not purposed either by the organism nor by a creator, but instead that many directions were taken within a population, and the successful o
        • the chore of processing mails

          Letters, you mean. Letters. Oh how I once fought against the term "an email" to refer to a singl "electronic letter". I've come to accept it, but I refuse to let people start saying things like "I got a mail yesterday".

      • Re:only? (Score:3, Informative)

        by gilgongo (57446)
        > How many of those, though, were really just multiple parts of a 'conversation'?

        Most I would think, but the length and content of them would probably read like miniature essays.

        My great grandfather corresponded with Darwin about chicken breeding. They exchanged about ten letters on the subject. Darwin's replies are in my aunt's cupboard and she showed them to me a few years ago. What's striking about them is that they are so densely written. The syntax, the length of sentences and the overall style seem
    • Re:only? (Score:5, Funny)

      by xs650 (741277) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:01AM (#13888991)
      It's all relative.
    • 10 emails per day? Jesus, I've sent 1721 since 27-02-2002 (1 per day), and I spent way too many hours at my computer...
  • Spam? (Score:5, Funny)

    by strazzere (882662) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:16AM (#13888687) Homepage
    Yea... But come on - how many of them asked him to sign up for a credit card...
    • Re:Spam? (Score:5, Funny)

      by MyIS (834233) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:29AM (#13888787) Homepage
      Hello, good sir!

      For an agre3able sum of 6 farth1ngs, You could be a happy recipient of Dr. Tomson's Fantastic Marriage Rev1ver 0il. The said amazing Substance is to be applied on Members involved; the forthcoming result may be hard to conceal even with a top hat, and your better half will quite soon be cured of that blasted Headache that has, undoubtedly, been plaguing the good woman every night for the past years.

      Caution: mis-use shall certainly ruin a dinner party.

    • Apparently Darwin had a better spam filter , A Galapagos Spam monkey I imagine
  • by falzer (224563) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:17AM (#13888697)
    He used Evolution, of course.
  • by LexNaturalis (895838) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:17AM (#13888698)
    It's much easier to read/respond to e-mail when you're slacking off at work and reading /. (not that I'd ever do that, boss!) but when you're on a boat studying birds on a far away island or working on important and complex physics problems it's a little more difficult to sit down and read through a letter and actually pen a response. The more interesting thing to note is that they actually did write 1,000s of letters that were probably well-written and well-formatted, unlike most modern e-mails (Or /. comments)

    However, if their letters had really been like modern inboxes, they'd be getting letters like "Is your chalk too soft? Take c1al1s to harden it up!!" or "Do you want to refinance your home, the Beagle?" or "Hot Physics action here!"
    • by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:23AM (#13888742) Journal
      when you're on a boat studying birds on a far away island or working on important and complex physics problems it's a little more difficult to sit down and read through a letter and actually pen a response.
      On the contrary, Darwin must have had ages to write all those letters during his long voyage... bird watching was only a small portion of the time spent, for the rest it was a long and boring sea voyage.
    • The more interesting thing to note is that they actually did write 1,000s of letters that were probably well-written and well-formatted, unlike most modern e-mails (Or /. comments)

      Admittedly I browse at +3 but despite that I'm often pleasantly surprised with the quality of /. comments. I rarely see ppl whu rit lik ths u no. Sometimes the poor spelling can be rediculous and occasionally, the, grammar can! slip. However on the whole I find it to be a higher standard than I receive in the office, where i

    • When Darwin was out studying birds on a far away island, he was a nobody and likely got few letters. After he published and became famous he stayed at home.

      But what I think a lot of people don't quite realize in their gut is that back then, email was the *only* means of communication. You couldn't just pick up the phone and call a biologist in Germany.
  • Yay! (Score:5, Funny)

    by DonJoe (888954) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:17AM (#13888699)
    If you're like Einstein, you respond to some e-mails immediately and let others wait. And, of course, some you never answer.

    Yay! I'm like, Einstein!
  • What a surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Da Fokka (94074) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:18AM (#13888702) Homepage
    "Their timely responses to most letters show that they were both aware of the importance of this intellectual intercourse,"

    Of course they were, they are respectively the most important Physicist and Biologist ever. If they had the intelligence to conceive their theories, it should be rather obvious that sorting their mail was not outside the realm of their wit.

    • Of course they were, they are respectively the most important Physicist and Biologist ever.

      Someday, maybe a physicist will create a portable way of sharing text and graphical information on computers via a network. Hmm. [w3.org]
      • Someday, maybe a physicist will create a portable way of sharing text and graphical information on computers via a network. Hmm.[link to Tim Berners-Lee]

        TBL is a smart dude, but having the idea to make hypertext available over a TCP/IP network doesn't really compare to evolution or relativity. For every Copernicus, Newton, or Einstein there are scores of Ben Franklins, James Watts, and Nikola Teslas. TBL is more appropriately a member of the latter group.

        • Re:What a surprise (Score:3, Insightful)

          by networkBoy (774728)
          -1 nitpick, but:
          Tesla belongs in the first group. His harnessing of alternating current was not only revolutionary, it was counter to the approved scientific "Fact" that it was impossible to do.
          -nB
    • by Prince Vegeta SSJ4 (718736) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:41AM (#13888856)
      "Their timely responses to most letters show that they were both aware of the importance of this intellectual intercourse," Of course they were, they are respectively the most important Physicist and Biologist ever. If they had the intelligence to conceive their theories, it should be rather obvious that sorting their mail was not outside the realm of their wit.

      Beisdes that, since they were nerds, what other type of intercourse could they get?

      • Well, if you talk to yourself about a problem, wouldn't that be intellectual masturbation?
      • by DJCater (877532)
        Do reckon people ever had 'cyber' back then, via snail-mail?

        AE: "Hey baby, wanna cyber? I'm here till Thursday."
        Ladee: "a/s/l?"
        AE: "A reply! That's consent, right? Ahem."

        AE: "I put on my robe and wizzard hat."
      • Re:besides that (Score:4, Interesting)

        by mikrorechner (621077) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:45AM (#13889334)

        Beisdes that, since they were nerds, what other type of intercourse could they get?

        Oh, to the contrary, Einstein was quite the ladyman:

        Einstein wanted and enjoyed the company of women, and his intellectual celebrity certainly wouldn't have hurt his chances with the socialites of Berlin or, later, the women of America. The relationships rarely lasted, however - usually once they were established, Einstein cooled off and looked elsewhere. Avoiding deep emotional ties in this way may have given him the solitude he needed to pursue his work, but few would find such behaviour admirable.
        (source [2ubh.com])

        I don't know about Bohr, though.
        • Einstein was quite the ladyman

          Wait...Einstein was from Thailand?!

          This is brand new information!

        • Beisdes that, since they were nerds, what other type of intercourse could they get?

          Oh, to the contrary, Einstein was quite the ladyman:


          And Darwin married his cousin Emma Wedgwood (heiress to the pottery fortune), freeing him from having to work a single day on his life.

          Not bad for a nerd, either.

          Cheers,
    • Re:What a surprise (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ucblockhead (63650)
      Not to mention that both men likely had personal secretaries to do the sorting for them.

      That is the most intelligent way to approach any problem. Get someone else to do it.

    • Darwin's great achievement was as an author and a popularizer of science, not as a biologist.

      The mechanism of evolution through natural selection had already been deduced by others (if you read Darwin's corpus, he generously acknowledges prior [wikipedia.org] work [wikipedia.org]) but Darwin was the first to write about it for the average reader, rather than for philosophers, engineers, or scientists.

      Exalting Darwin above Linneaus, Lamarck, Mendel, Dawkins, Crick and Watson as a biologist is probably unfair. However, as a science writer,
      • According to both of your wiki links, Darwin and Wallace had no knowledge of Matthew and Wells. People had been hypothesizing about all of this biodiversity, including ideas resembling evolution by natural selection, since the ancient Greeks. Darwin was the first to take these vague ideas and tie them together with his observations from the Beagle voyage, combined with the gradualist theories of contemporary geology and come up with a unified and fairly complete method for how evolution worked. Then he s
  • the heading threw me off. i was thinking some kind of new spam filtering technology in which good emails with non-spammy qualities get through to the inbox. i imagined a darwinian inbox that shrinks on it's own as crapy messages are deleted in favor of good ones. guess i gotta stop smoking early in the morning.
  • by Dekortage (697532) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:19AM (#13888713) Homepage

    This is just celebrity research. So Darwin and Einstein handled paper mail like we handle electronic mail. Guess what? I handle paper mail that way too. I bet most people do, and pronbably always have. The article doesn't talk about that, however.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:20AM (#13888718)
    As a lawyer working for Bohr & Associates, we recently discovered the sum of 8*10^16 Joules held inside 1g of Uranium 237. If with your help, we can free this energy, through a fission reaction, you will receive 0.1% of it in the form of heat, which can be used to drive turbines.

    Wishing you long life,
    Asumemwe Obugo,
    Lawyer
    Nigeria
  • by tezza (539307) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:20AM (#13888719)
    Anything that started with:

    To Albert Einstein,

    Gr0w ur p3n1s with ...

    Was not replied to.

  • by kevin_conaway (585204) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:21AM (#13888729) Homepage
    Umm, so they both sent and received mail. Both only replied to some of the mail they got? ME TOO! I wonder what else we have in common. Perhaps they enjoyed watching The Simpsons in their underwear as well.

    Thats what it takes to get a story on MSNBC these days?
    • After reading this article, I closed the window and wondered where my browser with FARK.com had gone. I was sure the "obvious" tag had trumped "amusing" or "interesting". I was genuinely shocked to find this post on Slashdot (but not so suprised to find it coming from MSNBC...) Seems this one was too obvious to make it even to Fark. Maybe it will show up later in the day, though... Heh.
    • Re:Slow News Day (Score:2, Insightful)

      by LeonGeeste (917243) *
      The Simpsons hadn't started airing during their lifetimes.

      *someone mod this insightful*
      • Wow... Someone actually did mod you insightful. People will do anything you tell them won't they?

        *someone email me your name, credit card number, expiration date and CVV*
    • Thats what it takes to get a story on MSNBC these days?

      Yes, they have improved a lot in their journalism lately....


    • Er...

      What is it that The Simpsons are doing in your underwear, exactly?

      Sorry, couldn't resist...
  • At least back then Nigeria 419 did not exist, and spam was a common household dinner... As for viagra and cialis, well, *real* men are geeks and they don't use "enhancements".
  • I disagree (Score:5, Funny)

    by xdroop (4039) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:24AM (#13888754) Homepage Journal
    The upshot: Einstein and Darwin exhibited a "fundamental pattern of human dynamics" that plays out every morning when you check your inbox.
    Nahh, it must have been Intelligent Design.
  • Most of Einstein's mail was probably from a crackpot claiming Relativity was a hoax and that in all the months he'd been writing to Einstein, Einstein hadn't provided a reply he liked.
    • by Smallest (26153) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:00AM (#13888984)
      http://home.pacific.net.au/~t_rout/Gravity%20waves .htm [pacific.net.au]

      All peoples should be exceedingly surprised to learn that Einsteins' concept of TIME, which he assigned as the 4th Dimension, and the speed of light are one and the same. It means by altering either one then the other one must remain unchanged; be declared a constant. Einstein could have made TIME the constant and the speed of light alterable. I will demonstrate this by using a high speeding spacecraft in which the speed of light within the spacecraft has halved to 150,000 k.p.sec. then the TIME, it is relative to, has to be made Stationary Time the constant and the speed of light alterable. We could use our, not so quite, stationary TIME on Earth. Now I will do it the other way by making TIME in the spacecraft as the variable and halving it, but the speed of light MUST become the constant and be related as 300,000 k.p.sec., which is the common everyday way it is stated, explained, understood and taught. What I have now done is to prove and explain more easily that I had and have proven the Speed of light is ALTERABLE. It is under my non-exclusive copyright.

      A decade or more ago I stated Black Holes should be stationary. I also stated the speed of light within Black Holes has slowed and the previous paragraphs' data proves I had and have proven my statement was true and correct. With Black Holes being stationary then the speed of light within them is relative to Stationary Time making the speed of light slower due to the Black Holes massive mass and the resulting massive gravity. The speeding spacecrafts' mass increases with its' speed increasing. So an increased mass causes an increase in gravity and a slower TIME or rather a slower speed of light.

      A major problem has been that the World Science Establishments, Educational and Political Systems and the colluding Media Establishments wrongly believing that the speed of light is unalterable. All this would be of great surprise to the World Science Establishments and an enormous surprise for the public to know of their surprise due to Science, Scientists and Physicists Internationally not understanding Relativity. They all have not understood Einsteins' Relativity since it's release in 1905. Maybe Spacetime's 4th Dimension being defective and deficient can take some of the blame, but only part of the blame for it is their weak minds and poor reasoning powers and arrogance that is at fault. I again have demonstrated and proven my Intellectual and Scientific superiority and again I am being denied credit, recognition, and public awareness so depriving me of financial remuneration which hinders and stops me from getting my major Fusion and Space projects underway in Australia with International involvement. The Media deceives and confuses the Public of the credibility of my achievements with its' silence.

      • Somebody forgot to take their Wellbutrin.
      • Ahh, dude, he's got nothing on the timecube [timecube.com], which proves conclusively that there are in fact 4 simultaneous 24-hour days, and that all sceintist and teachers are liars.

        Also, he uses different colour letters and his fonts get increasingly bigger, so it must be true.

        I am wiser than any god or scientist, for I have squared the circle and cubed Earth's sphere, thus I have created 4 simultaneous separate 24 hour days within a 4-corner (as in a 4-corner classroom) rotation of Earth. See for yourself the abso
        • by Boronx (228853)
          I love how he groups Socrates, Einstein, Jesus and Clinton.
        • holy crap, what was that all about? I've read some wacky shit on the web, but that takes the cake! It sounds like somebody tried to explain time zones to this dude and he just blew a fuse. Like it's some earth-shattering existential mind job that there are, at any given time, a sunrise, sunset, midday and midnight, at different points on the planet. I hope that it was all just a hoax/joke.
  • by Mean Variance (913229) <mean.variance@gmail.com> on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:30AM (#13888794)
    What is the point of saying he responded to "only" 32% of the letters. Many communications I get in email do not warrant a response. Granted, it's quite simple that I will respond with a "thanks" message. But if it were sent in a letter, I don't think I would bother to write (literally) back with an acknowledgement if it didn't extend the context of the message.
  • by rustbear (852420) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:34AM (#13888824)

    From TFA:

    If you're like Einstein, you respond to some e-mails immediately and let others wait. And, of course, some you never answer.

    In other news, if you're like Einstein, you eat breakfast early sometimes, sometimes you eat breakfast late. And, of course, sometimes you don't eat breakfast at all.

  • Actual Statistics? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by adavies42 (746183) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:47AM (#13888889)
    I'd like to see the real statistics involved (number of letters in various times to reply). It sounds like it might be a power-law distribution, but with coverage this lame, it's hard to tell.
  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @10:56AM (#13888952)
    > If you're like Einstein, you respond to some e-mails immediately and let others wait.

    It depends on how fast it's moving relative to my frame of reference.

  • by rubberbando (784342) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:08AM (#13889044)
    He didn't....

    Monkeys don't have thumbs! ;-)
  • In other news, historians have discovered that both Einstein and Darwin favored the Non-simultaneous Leg Insertion method for putting on their pants - much like you and I.
    • In other news, historians have discovered that both Einstein and Darwin favored the Non-simultaneous Leg Insertion method for putting on their pants - much like you and I.

      Yes, but they didn't have the benefit of research done by Wallace, Gromit, etc. I'm sure that had the dressing machine envisioned by the aformentioned pioneers in the field of haberdashery been shown to Einstein and others they, in fact, would have dressed themselves two legs at a time. As we have the knowledge and technology, and ye
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ..what emails they would get.

    "Mr Einstin,

    plz xplain theori of relativaty 4 me as i hav midterm 2morow morn and i skipd all my classs 2 hang wiv a gurl in my dorm(i culd giv u her myspace lnk if u wan??? she has nudez up lol).

    thx,

    killin_burd9123"
  • What sort of nonsense article is that? I mean, so what? It's silly to infer that they were so far ahead of their time. They got an butt-load of mail and they answered it like ANYONE else who gets lots of mail--electronic or post.

    Albert Einstein probably received letters like this:


    Dear Albert,

    Your theory of relativity rocks, dude. You da man. I've got some good absinthe and some opium. Maybe we can hang out some time?

    Joe Nobody


    Would you answer that? (Well, some of you would...)
  • Weird... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DJCater (877532) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:30AM (#13889207)
    Study suggests modern e-mail habits similar to older, letter-writing ones

    It's almost as if modern e-mail was created as an electronic replacement to mail!
  • by awol (98751) on Thursday October 27, 2005 @11:31AM (#13889215) Journal
    Many of the posters here are say in various ways, "Big Deal, they responded to mail the way we respond to email, so what?". But it is an interesting finding.

    But there are many components of the analysis that need to be understood. First, assuming that the mail was from their celebrity period then we should ask does pre-email celebrity present a parallel to email in terms of unsolicited incoming messages. If so does it present a way of trying to manage it.

    Second, the fact that people in the pre-email days are responding to the same kind of fractions as we are with email then we can try and understand if email is a complete parallel for regular mail. In which case many things follow, for exampl the question about whether the "massive" penalties for mail interference should be extended to email.

    Then we could think about the social impact of mail. Is the proportion of responded email a "guilt" thing or a measure of the relevance of the mail. In otherwords do we reply to X% of our mail because to do less makes us feel bad and if we bump up the number of incoming does the amount of responding increase, or do we settle for a lower X.

    These are all interesting questions and historical data from a parallel, perhaps corellated, source is a worthy place to do analysis.
  • US postage at $.37 (right?) that would be $5365 for Einstein and $2416 for Darwin.

    That's covers about 7.5 years of Comcast HS, or about 45 years of free-$10 service (Juno, NetZero, Netscape, etc). Whence millions of messages can be freely sent (as is evidenced by my Junk folder).

    I think communication has gotten cheaper. Especially international.
  • News Flash: Journalist Has Nothing To Write About, Still Needs To Submit An Article.
  • If you're like Einstein, you respond to some e-mails immediately and let others wait. And, of course, some you never answer.
    And every now and then, you find an old one in your inbox that you didn't even realize you had, and you reply.

    Wow!!!! That is some deep journalism, right there!

  • Oh for the old days. Einstein only got 16,000 letters in his life.
    I wonder how mauch junk mail he got:

    Dear Mrs. A.Einstein,

    You may have already won $100,000! Just return the enclosed form with the "YES" sticker attached...

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