I recently wrote about a study that likened the brain drain suffered by e-mail addicts to that of your average pothead (Inbox, May 14). This logic was ultimately flawed...

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I recently wrote about a study that likened the brain drain suffered by e-mail addicts to that of your average pothead (Inbox, May 14). This logic was ultimately flawed, even as some news organizations reported these findings — by researchers at the University of London Institute of Psychiatry in a study for Hewlett-Packard — with a straight face. I am proud to say I was not one of them.

Last week, America Online released the results of its own survey on the topic. Aside from a cute headline on the news release (“Might as Well Face It, We’re Addicted To E-Mail”), this effort is serious, thought-provoking and full of actual hard numbers. In short, it’ll fly under the radar of the Leno/Letterman writers and those looking for amusing news.

So it’s up to me to spread the word.

First, let’s bring out the accountants. AOL, in partnership with Opinion Research, conducted online surveys with 4,012 respondents 18 or older in the top 20 cities around the country to measure e-mail usage.

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It asked about their e-mail habits, such as how often they check personal e-mail while at work or if they’ve ever checked e-mail while in church. (The finding there was just 1 percent, but that’s 1 percent too many for some deities.)

The list of the 10 most-addicted cities, where Miami, San Francisco and Philadelphia prevail, contains some interesting news for locals. Seattle didn’t make the list. A call to AOL finds that we are languishing at No. 11.

As for the other numbers, the bottom line is that people check their personal e-mail five times daily, and 40 percent have checked in the middle of the night.

Are they serious? My empirical evidence shows a much higher rate. The last day I checked my e-mail only five times I was on a cross-country flight. Good thing there was a stop in Atlanta, otherwise I wouldn’t have made my quota.

As for the midnight run, my life goes like this, at least twice a night: Wake up. Go to the bathroom. Quaff some OJ. Check e-mail. Sometimes I vary the order, just for the heck of it.

Oh, these are averages. Never mind.

Most relevant to business and industry, because it represents a loss of revenue, is information about checking personal e-mail at work. Because I’ve only done this once, I didn’t think it was a real problem. But the survey found 61 percent of e-mail users employed outside the home check their personal e-mail at work, on an average of three times a day.

There is also a gender gap. Twenty percent feel guilty about checking personal e-mail at work, and women are twice as likely as men to feel guilty about sending personal e-mail from the office (27 percent versus 13 percent). And 9 percent has been busted by the boss. (In Seattle, that number is 5 percent.)

For those who doubt whether they qualify as an addict, AOL has kindly provided a handy quiz, available at www.aim.com. While the survey results are worth reading, the test isn’t exactly enlightening. After three questions, it came up with “You’re an addict. Seek help.”

After these multiple surveys, it isn’t hard to predict the next step. Pretty soon there will be e-mail rehab facilities, perhaps even a new wing on the Betty Ford Center. And it won’t be too long before it’s covered by insurance.

As for my own dependence, I’m not so worried. I get up in the middle of the night because I’m thirsty; checking in takes only a second. And quitting is easy. I’ve done it 100 times.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.