Wednesday, 14-Dec-11 11:30
The Inherent Evilness of Email

One thing I hear a lot these days is How Email Is Evil And It Eats Your Soul And Casts Your Spirit Into a Bottomless Pit Of Despair. Then people say that Skype/Chat/Wikis/Blogs/Google Docs/Facebook/Twitter are so much better than email, and if everyone just started using those and ditched email, things would just work so much better.

I think these people get it totally wrong. Their problem isn't with the tools, it's with people. The reason email is so popular is that it is the lowest common denominator for everyone, which means that you are bound to get also thoughtless, stupid and useless emails, because the people who send them are thoughtless, stupid or useless.

The thing is that with newfangled tools, there's a certain threshold. Only people who loved wikis started to use them first. So obviously it was a lot easier to work with people who loved the tools, and were able to use them effectively. Ditto with blogs, and Facebook and all the others. If you're an early adopter, you tend to hang with the early adopter crowd. (In fact, I suspect that this is also the reason why so many people claim Google Plus is so much better than Facebook - their friends who fill their timelines with uninteresting stuff just haven't followed yet, so obviously G+ seems more interesting.)

There's also a certain selectiveness for tools - I give out my Skype address to only a limited amount of people; have a bit more friends at Facebook, and give out my email address to everyone. Not entirely unsurprisingly, the noise ratio increases for the tools which have a larger distribution. And I'm fine with that.

So to me this is more of a social issue, not so much a technological issue.

Once a technology gets popular, you will have more people using it than you can comfortably really deal with. There's no magical bullet that would make everything easier.

But of course, different tools have different capabilities. You shouldn't use email as if it were a chat program: delegate the responsibilities to different tools. The way I deal with the email onslaught is that I turn off most email notifications, and make sure that push email is off at all times. I then make my email client check for email only for regular intervals, like once an hour, tops (email inboxes that get system alerts are on a tighter schedule, but those addresses I don't distribute so much). Also, most importantly, I don't really read many emails, nor do I respond to many emails; only when I have to. I've found that that cuts down your traffic a significant amount... (My personal record is 37 MB of incoming email in about 700 emails in a single day. Wasn't that hard to deal with really.)

I also turn off all Skype and IRC notifications so that I don't see the noise of icons bouncing or Growl notifications on the top of my screen. I find myself to be more efficient when I am not interrupted all the time. Managing interruptibility is the key; you must take control of your own time.

The really awesome thing about email is that it's a decent bandwidth, equal access, easy to use, delayed communication media. You can always send a Powerpoint to someone via email, and you don't have to worry about whether that guy has Dropbox access or whether you're hogging their wireless bandwidth by sending it on Skype. It Just Works, which is why so many people use it. You can deal with your email when you have suitable time, and you don't have to drop everything just because you're online on Skype and someone decides to send you questions.

I really do like email. I like Twitter too. And Facebook. I just don't always like all the people on them all the time.

Private comments? Drop me an email. Or complain in a nearby pub - that'll help.

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"Main" last changed on 10-Aug-2015 21:44:03 EEST by JanneJalkanen.

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