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Last Updated: Monday, 31 October 2005, 10:24 GMT
Letters and e-mails share pattern
Research into how people prioritise e-mails reveals a biological leitmotif
An analysis of the pattern of letters sent by Darwin and Einstein shows they communicated in much the same way as modern computer users.

The pattern of their paper correspondence follows the same mathematical laws as electronic mail, researchers say.

Both scientists were prolific letter writers, using paper, pen and the postal service to exchange ideas.

Charles Darwin sent at least 7,591 letters and received around the same.

Einstein sent more than 14,500 letters in his lifetime and received more than 16,000 replies.

The work suggests there is a fundamental pattern of dynamics for the way people prioritise competing tasks, whether it is sifting through mundane e-mail each morning, or communicating ground-breaking scientific theories.

Albert-Laszlo Barabasi from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, US and Joao Gama Oliveira from the Universidade de Aveiro, Portugal, analysed the time it took for the scientists to reply to letters.

They found that the great theorists dealt with urgent matters within 10 days but left other requests to wait for months or even years.

The distribution of waiting times follows approximately the same power law as modern e-mail users today, except for the much faster response time allowed by instant-access e-mail.

"Darwin's and Einstein's patterns of correspondence and today's electronic exchanges follow the same scaling laws," the pair wrote in the journal Nature.

"However, the response times of their surface-mail communication is described by a different scaling component from e-mail communication, providing evidence for a new class of phenomena in human dynamics."

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