I hate email. It’s wasted a lot of my time over the years, and promises to continue. The problem isn’t actually email itself, of course. It’s a perfectly useful communication medium. The problem is in the way it’s used and abused.
- Email is a default medium. People use it because it’s comfortable. Introverts and extroverts alike seem to use email for the bulk of their conversations and collaboration. Sadly, very little time is devoted to thinking through alternative communication media, which are often more effective, before sitting down to type.
- Despite group sending capabilities, email is not social. Even the origin of its name (electronic mail) refers to the metaphor of a postal service, where it’s a crime to open and read someone else’s mail. Others who would benefit within an organization have no insight into conversations that are taking place. This restricts potentially valuable contributions and stands in the way of knowledge sharing in otherwise healthy organizations. “Email is where knowledge goes to die” ~ Bill French
- Email invites secondary distribution. For the reason above, whenever someone feels another person needs to be included in a “conversation,” they simply forward it or add them on a reply to all. So you also have to be careful what you say in an email.
- Using email for collaboration is done through what’s known as email trees. See the video on email trees (thanks Allison Michels and Steve Nguyen for highlighting this at DevLearn).
- Reply all. Seriously, don’t clutter my in-box with your reply to all when I didn’t invite the message in the first place
- Email invites misunderstanding. Tone of voice and body language, which account for about two-thirds of face-to-face communication, are missing. Smiley faces and other emoticons can’t make up for that.
- Spam. Monty Python sketch aside, spam has gotten out of control. Who would have imagined twenty-five years ago that organizations would spend so much time and effort to prevent uninvited messages from reaching our in-boxes.
- Phishing. Occasionally I almost fall victim to a new phishing scheme where a company I legitimately do business with seems to be inviting me to click an embedded link. This is especially problematic on my mobile device where hovering doesn’t exist. I’ve learned to press and hold any link to see where it goes first. Yes, I learned the hard way.
- People who can’t write well aren’t suddenly gifted email authors. Go figure. I get lost in long, rambling sentences and refuse to read long badly written messages. I tell people to stop and choose a different medium if they’re struggling with writing an email. They rarely do.
- People who are disorganized thinkers write disorganized email. Unnecessary detail, irrelevant facts, and random comments have no place in business email. Get to the point. If you want me to act, tell me up front. Better yet, IM or call me. Just don’t leave me a long, disorganized voice message.
I hate email, but I use email. It’s necessary evil in my current environment, and it will continue to have a place in interpersonal communication. I only hope that place is significantly diminished as activity streams and online collaborative work spaces become an integral part of the work environment.
Thanks for reading!
This work by Tom Spiglanin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at tom.spiglanin.com.