The growing email overload: more like killer algae or kudzu?

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OK, I am having serious metaphor issues.

As I am cleaning the first chapter of the book, "I have a fancy title, steady paycheck and good benefits. Why am I so miserable?" I am working on a section called "blood from a turnip."  You know what I am talking about, where your life force is squeezed from you as you desperately try to keep up with outrageous amounts of work, since they doubled your workload after cutting half the staff last round of layoffs.

So when I get to the part about the overwhelming volume of email in a corporate setting these days, I think "This would be a great place for nature metaphors. Something like that algae that is taking over ocean wildlife, or the crabs who hide under ships from China and jump off in San Francisco Bay and eat all the native creatures."

So I google "predator sealife," or some such thing, and come across this fantastic book, Killer Algae by Alexandre Meinesz.

It reads like a suspense novel and science fiction nightmare, only it is a true story and happening now.  Here is an excerpt:

In the early 1980s, the curator of the tropical aquarium at Stuttgart, Germany, noticed the exceptional properties of a beautiful green alga, Caulerpa taxifolia, used as decoration in the presentation of multicolored tropical fishes. In contrast to other algae, it does not wither, it grows with astounding vigor, it resists cool water temperatures, and it serves as a secondary food source for herbivorous tropical fishes. Specialists quickly learned about these qualities, and public aquaria acquired cuttings.

This is how it arrived at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, where it was cultivated beginning in 1982. Two years later, the alga was discovered in nature, under the windows of this celebrated building. At that time, the beautiful stranger occupied only a square meter of Mediterranean bottom. Six years later, the alga was noted on the French coast five kilometers from Monaco; its detrimental impact on coastal ecosystems was deplored. The alga grows everywhere, from the surface to the lower limits of underwater vegetation. It grows as well in front of capes swept by storms and currents as on the soft bottoms of sheltered bays, on the polluted mud of harbors as on stretches of bottom with a diverse flora and fauna. Highly toxic, it barely interests herbivores; they have not hindered its spread. It is thus growing unrestrained, covering and then eliminating many plant and animal species. A new equilibrium is reached when the alga forms a dense, uniform carpet that persists from year to year (highlight my emphasis).

"A new equilibrium is reached when the alga forms a dense, uniform carpet that persists from year to year."

Isn’t that a delicious metaphor for email?

So I vet it with my Twitter friends and it seems they prefer the killer plant Kudzu, an import to the Southern United States from Japan that grows about a foot in one evening and eats everything in its path.  More here.

Some people even suggested bunnies gone wild was a good metaphor for out of control email, but, come on, where is the terror in bunnies?

Zebra mussels and non-native Python snakes in the Everglades have all been thrown out as alternatives.

So I am asking for your vote: 

Metaphor for the out-of-control growth of email:  killer algae or kudzu?

If you vote for bunnies gone wild, I might just have to eject you from this forum.  πŸ™‚

23 Responses to “The growing email overload: more like killer algae or kudzu?”

  1. Jim Graham says:

    Killer bunnies. Monty Python notwithstanding, the closest a President came to dying in the 1970s was Jimmy Carter at the flashing, deadly teeth of…
    Squeaky Fromme holds no candle to the untiring ferocity of the bunny. Bunnies are Skeery!

  2. Rockhopper says:

    I love both metaphors – and I believe either one makes the point. Killer Algae is “fresher” so that might work where others might assume they already understand Kudzu.

    Whichever you choose…the law of unintended consequences is also an important concept to include. After all, e-mail was *intended* to be a productivity enhancer which may be the all-time greatest time waster. We ALL spend time pruning our Inbox, sorting through the noise to find the signal, etc.

    Rock on!

  3. Gina says:

    “Killer Algae” yes! Campy and we all know what it is. Although it does have it’s beneficial side , Algae that is -I really know nothing of the killer species. Here in Hawaii we GROW algae for human consumption you know the spirulina type. Health food you know…yes yes this is it Pam…the good healthy helpful (email/algae)gone killer -great si fi feel don’t you think.
    Ok “nuff sed”

  4. Andy Pels says:

    Wow. Some great thoughts. You really should explore fully – like Peter’s wondering about natural predators for email.

    I tend to agree that the killer algae (I guess it should be alga, right?) makes a clearer simpler connection. Plus, everybody can picture algae without visual aid.

    But I can’t ignore your bunny-related threat and am thus compelled to point out that leporiphobia is a relatively common, debilitating fear of rabbits. And haven’t you seen Donnie Darko? One cute bunny is when you have your first yahoo (or, God forbid, aol) email account that you used to email the 2 other people whose email addresses you have. Then (cue music ) the bunnies all “work so well together” that things get a bit out of control…

    No – really I vote alga – but the bunny thing could work with a humorous twist.

  5. Melissa says:

    Definitely killer algae. Kudzu is too regional. We are talking about a small portion of your book, right? Don’t think you will have a problem with negative association with the original book, even if it is found to be a little over dramatic. Like the campy-ness!

  6. reinkefj says:

    I’ll vote for the bunnies. But they are not email. They are the email accounts.

    Acquired for whatever reason good at the time, they’ve grown and morphed into this never ending supply of care and feeding chores. Occasionally birthing new email accounts. Argh!

    Cute and cuddly, it’s impossible to bring yourself to kill them.

    After all somewhere in the world they might lead to a key connection from some one who has your winning lottery ticket and only that one old email address tofind you. Double argh!

  7. gwen says:

    Dear Pam!
    Why seeking a methapor in the nature? I would referr to an enormous overload of e-mails as being noise – someone tries to talk to you, but they are so many that you cannot hear the one you want to listen to, or cannot decide which one to listen to. So I would rather go for a methapor like an ever growing louder pub, disco or cocktail party.

  8. Kathrina says:

    Hey Pam –

    I agree ‘Killer Algae’ is much more catchy, and definitely more recognizable!

    Miss you! =0)

  9. Mon Amie,

    How about “Ants on Candy Cane”!

    I am visualizing a never ending trail of ant platoons on the kitchen counter because little Suzie left her candy cane unwrapped!

    Will miss you at Blog World.

    Su Amigo,

  10. Peter says:

    I would advise caution with the “Killer Algae” metaphor. I don’t have definitive knowledge, but a bare minimum of research suggests that there are some who consider the _Killer Algae_ book a massive exaggeration. E.g.

    In any case, I prefer the kudzu vine because *in it’s proper place*, kudzu is a wonderful plant with many uses. For instance, it first spread across the US when farmers planted it as a soil improver.

    When the Internet was the domain of computer nerds and academics, e-mail was a wonderful, useful system. It only became a major nuisance when it was used for business and commerce.

    Here’s a thought: what were the “natural predators” that once to kept e-mail in check? Was it academics’ reluctance to waste one another’s time with stupid crap?

  11. Janet says:

    I vote for kudzu. Killer algae is apt, but only with the explanation, which bogs down the metaphor. Plus kudzu has a stickier sound. All those hard consonants.

  12. Karen says:

    Goats & cows eat kudzu, if you can get them to it. They, in turn, are useful.

    I don’t know what eats algae and becomes useful.

    Therefore, I vote for algae.

  13. EVERYONE in the South knows what kudzu is. Your readers are showing their regional roots! I vote
    Kudzu. Wait. It was my idea. Yeah, I vote KUDZU! Killer algae just feeds into that entire media hysteria thing that we all get subjected to daily that is making us sick. War. War between. Killer. Ad nauseum. Can’t something simply be simple without sounding violent? Geez, Louise.

    You’re cracking me up Louise! Er, Kathryn.

    I think I am influenced by my favorite movie “Attack of the killer tomatoes”

    Not meaning to be a war monger, just love the campy sound of “killer” anything.


  14. I agree with the algae. While email doesn’t seem to ever get to an equilibrium point, the rapid spread of the algae before settling into stasis does seem to mirror email.

  15. Killer algae. I think it’s much more evocative than kudzu. I would take the time to set up the description much like you did here, then hammer home the ways that this is like e-mail.

  16. Meesha says:

    I vote for killer algae–kudzu is less recognizable, plus it has flowers and is kind of pretty….not, I think, quite what you’re going for!

  17. Lyndon says:

    I like kudzu — but we can expect your book to be seen well beyond even the extended range of that devourer. Unless your book has pictures and the place to put a shot of kudzu overwhelming an abandoned building with a caption explaining the whole thing, I would recommend killer algae.

    That particular algae reached an equilibrium of sorts, but I’m sure there are others out there…

  18. Brad Balfour says:

    Killer Algae. Kudzu reminds me too much of the comic strip rather than the plant:-)

    I’m very much in tune with the overload concept. But I’m looking at it more from the blog and RSS side. So I may pick at the bones of one of your metaphor rejects, if you don’t mind.

  19. Smartalyx says:

    Algae. I think since most people don’t know what Kudzu is right off the top, the metaphor would be lost. Killer algae is something I think most people would easily identify and it is (as stated before) catchier.
    But there are days when Email feels more like piranha- one or two you can “sort of” avoid; but soon you have a whole school devouring your time to the bones!

  20. Mike says:

    Hi Pam,

    At the risk of being thrown out, I vote for the bunnies.

    Deliberately released into the wild by man, only to cause untold damage. Multiple attempts to control the issue have failed.

    Read the last paragraph on biological controls! Horrifying, yet kind of familiar.

  21. rick says:

    Bunnies aren’t terrifying?? Ahem….


    I take back on my bunny mockery Rick. πŸ™‚


  22. Pierre Morsa says:

    Hi Pam,

    I would go with killer algae. I didn’t know what kudzu was. Although I agree from the description that e-mail is more like kudzu.

  23. Pam says:

    Clearly I spend too much time on Twitter, since I voiced an opinion there, too. πŸ˜‰ There’s something about finding the perfect metaphor that intrigues me.

    So here’s an observation: As I understand it, Kudzu continues to grow and cover more and more territory.

    In contrast, the algae you’re talking about apparently reaches an equilibrium or steady state.

    Which is email more like?

    Well, I just switched to Google Apps so I could have 6GB (or whatever it is) to store my ever-growing pile of email. So I’m gonna have to go with kudzu.

    But “killer algae” is way catchier.

    Good luck!