Have you heard the one about email being dead? Every month, a new pundit pontificates about the evils of email.
“Too many people email me.”
“Too many people copy me on things.”
“I’m tired of constantly checking email.”
Some even go on email strike. Each time, the author points to the latest technology (instant messaging, Groove, SMS, Google Wave, SharePoint, social media, Yammer) as the antidote for our poisonous email addiction. Email is a symptom of modern information culture. Whereas hierarchy, structure and bureaucracy used to work as a filter that shielded us from the horrors of overload, today’s email is the great democratizer. If you have a brilliant suggestion or an idle complaint, the distance between your idea and a company CEO is the space between the “From” and the “To” fields.
I contend that the problems we have with email aren’t about the technology at all — they are about us. So we’d better own up to our core issues, because they’ll follow us no matter which communication medium we use.
It’s Saturday morning in your neighborhood, and you’re in line at Starbucks with your family. Why are you checking email on your iPhone? As much as emails can be annoying, they do make us feel important. Someone wants to talk to us. Remember the Peanuts specials when Charlie Brown would go to his mailbox every day to see if someone sent him a letter?
Although we’ve all been faced with colleagues who use the “CC” option far too often, are we blameless ourselves?
Perhaps we just want to demonstrate that we’re actually getting things done, or that we are indeed in the know about what’s going on. Whatever the reason, do we consider the effect our message will have on the recipients before thoughtlessly adding to the CC line?
And then there’s paranoia.
“I don’t want to be left out.”
“Why was I not copied on that email that I should have known about?”
This aversion to missing out on conversations others are having reinforces our CC addiction.
4. False Productivity
Often, email can be a mindless activity. Answering it gives you quick gratification.
Writing back to people with “thanks” and “great job” is much easier than creating something original from scratch. It’s a way to “get things done” without actually doing anything. This false productivity can be consuming and drain time away from things that actually matter.
Striving for a World With Less Email
We wanted a world of open communication, and we got it. The problem is that openness cuts both ways.
Regardless of the technology, we can address these issues by retraining ourselves and engaging in some serious self-discipline. This is something I consciously work on every day and emphasize in my company. Getting communications right as a society is very simple, and it starts with me as the sender.
“Email unto others as you would have them email unto you.” Or something like that.