Do I have e-mail?

The sudden increase in digital information, or bits, in our everyday lives has destroyed any question of permanence or scarcity of those bits. Just consider the example of e-mail.

Years ago when you first got online, you were excited to get e-mail, right? So every day, the big question when you logged in was, Will I have any e-mail? The chirpy announcement that "You've got mail!" actually meant something, since sometimes you didn't have mail.

Today there's no question. There's no such thing as no mail. You don't have to ask; you DO have mail. If it's not the mail you want (from friends or family), it's work-related mail or, worse, spam. Our inboxes may soon be so flooded with spam that we look for entirely different ways to use e-mail.

The death of that question, "Do I have e-mail?" has brought us a new, more interesting question as a result: "What do I do with all this e-mail?" More generally, what do we do with all these bits(e-mail, wireless messages, websites, Palm Pilot files, Napster downloads)? This is the question that will define our relationship with digital technology in coming years.

MARK HURST, founder of Internet consulting firm Creative Good, is widely credited for popularizing the term "customer experience" and the methodology around it. Hurst has worked since the birth of the Web to make Internet technology easier and more relevant to its "average" users. In 1999, InfoWorld magazine named Hurst "Netrepreneur of the Year", saying that "Mark Hurst has done more than any other individual to make Web-commerce sites easier to use." Over 39,000 people subscribe to his Good Experience newsletter, available for free at goodexperience.com or update@goodexperie nce.com.