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The War On Email

Created by dave. Last edited by dave, 12 years and 55 days ago. Viewed 3,752 times. #1
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(11 January 2012)

There seems to be an almost-declared war on email going these days. I have read of people abandoning email either temporarilly or permanently. I also read of CEOs deciding they want to ban email from their companies completely.

I really don't understand this.

I understand people looking at email and saying "I spend so much time doing email that I really could be spending doing something else."

First of all that's axiomatically true for practically anything. I know what they are doing is complaining about the proportion of time they spend doing it, but there is a business purpose to this effort.


With email you are receiving communication. If you decide you are not going to deal with email, you have to wonder A) how are people who need to communicate with you otherwise, and B) what email-only communications are you going to lose access to?

The problem really is one of access. If you decide you are not going to deal with email and decide you are going to only do Facebook or Twitter, won't you still have the same problem of a mountain of information coming at you through Facebook or Twitter once all your communication partners switch to Facebook or Twitter?

Email performs some valuable functions when used properly. The fact that you are not limited to 140 characters means you can express ideas that are more complicated than 140 characters. You can use real language, proper grammar, and proper spelling.

I use email as a record. My sent-items folder contains practically every email I have sent since 2006 (and it only goes that far back due to a mistake I made with managing my folder contents, otherwise it would go back to 2001). Having a record means you can go back to see what happened before. I know lawyers are pathologically opposed to anything that lets them change the past, but for most of us knowing what happened before can be useful in the future.

I spend a lot of time in my email client, so it makes sense for robots to mail me the varying mountain of automatic reports I get every day. I can read in detail, skim, leave for later, or delete the message. I can forward interesting pieces to other people if necessary. Robots have the exact same vector for sending me important information as they do trivial information, and I can access it virtually anywhere thanks to my iPhone.

Doing things in my email and interacting with email-aware applications (such as RT) means that the majority of my writing is done in a single word processor. Today it is Outlook/Word, but in the old days it was vi. I hated (and still hate) having to use a website that had a crude text box, and all the rich-text editors were all different meaning that there was an impediment to using them all.

(Frankly I would just as soon go back to vi but that's not practical these days.)

Using a single editor means I don't have to think about what I want to do, I just do it.

The real winner for email though is universality. I have an email address (well several actually). If some company that wants to do business with mine but doesn't have email… what do they do? How do I send them information? Yes the phone works as an alternative… but I don't like the phone.

The Alternatives

Frankly none of the alternatives are compelling.

Twitter is too brief.

Facebook -- well just don't do business over Facebook. Just… don't.

What most people are trying to do is to turn the world into instant messaging, where you say something and the other person says something then you say something. And I'm not sure that's a good thing.

Ever tried to do tech support over IM? It's horrible. It's slow. It is badly spelled, and virtually impossible to refer to later.

End The War

In the end the only way to deal with email is to figure out how to manage the flow of information. I use filters, external task-tracking systems, and remote access devices to decide what I read when, and how I reply to it.

If you are getting emails that you don't need to get, figure out how to stop getting them.

Or figure out how to ignore them. Learn to love the delete key. It has great power. Think of it as opting-out of a message in such a way that you are still getting the useful information.

If you are buried in email, frankly you have a information management problem… not an email problem.

Hiding from email won't fix that.

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