I asked this question on the English Stack Exchange and people advised to try get the answer here. I can’t get the idea of metaphor in the last sentence of the following quote:

Instead, email operates more like chaos theory: at some point the time/energy required crosses a critical threshold, an unpredictable, invisible boundary. It undergoes a phase transition, like ice changing to water and then to steam. The parameters change and the effects explode, cascading across the rest of your workflow with mounting consequences.


closed as unclear what you're asking by Kyle Kanos, CuriousOne, Norbert Schuch, Gert, John Rennie Feb 1 '16 at 6:41

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    $\begingroup$ There are at least three distinct metaphors there, and they are badly mixed, inconsistently used and not very well thought out from a physics point of view. It just means that at some point handling email dominates your time and you get no actual work done. In the end, however, I don't think this is a physics question at all. You were given poor advice. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Jan 31 '16 at 16:06

As somebody who works in the field of chaos theory (for whatever that’s worth), I confirm Dmckee’s assessment: There is no reasonable relation to any concepts from chaos theory. There is, however, an attempt in your quote to relate this to the phenomenon of criticality – which is not chaos theory, but like chaos theory is related to the field of complex systems.

Applied to e-mails, the concept of criticality can be summarised as follows:

  • Let $φ$ be the average number of e-mails sent as a consequence of a given e-mail.

  • If $φ<1$ and there is no mechanism (other than other e-mails) causing people to sent e-mails, e-mails will eventually die out.

  • If $φ>1$, there is an exponentially growing cascade of e-mails and we will eventually drown in them.

  • Therefore, there is a critical point at $φ=1$ separating the two phases described above and marking a phase transition.

However, I cannot see any reasonable connection of the above concept to your quote. The time a given person spends on e-mails does not affect $φ$ in general and thus there is no critical point to cross when increasing the time you spend on e-mails. Moreover, this is neither unpredictable nor invisible nor is there a cascade involving the rest of one’s workflow. Finally, I fail to see any other way to apply the concept of criticality to e-mails.

  • $\begingroup$ Didn't know that. Done! $\endgroup$ – AlinaSaidova Feb 1 '16 at 10:16

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