Is Email Bad?

Note: This article is dated 1 November – although the exact date of writing can’t be determined. It was retrieved from the archive and posted in March 2003.

The internet is the most wonderful tool of recent history. It’s fun, factual, interesting and full of fascinating creatures. It’s strange and freakish: at the same time useful and useless. I am thankful that it filled my night shifts and unhappy it takes over my time. Thank goodness for the internet.

Of all the components that make up the ‘net (Archie, anyone?), email is – probably – the greatest invention. Fast and functional, it has revolutionised my working life. Back in ’93 when I got my first real-world-connected email address, apart from those people in the same office, I knew one other person. Friends of mine couldn’t see the point. However, once I was able to communicate with my Dad in Thailand at a reasonable hour without staying awake to call him – other people saw there may be uses. Then, they connected and suddenly they sent me emails telling me how great it was to be part of this connected-universe.

Now, after six years, I think I may be turning into one of the none-believers. That’s not wholly true but – nevertheless – I’ve decided email is not as great as it could be. Sure the power to communicate is still fantastic and the informal nature is wonderful. The ability to time-shift conversations is useful but it gets in the way of my working day and I haven’t the strength to do anything about it.

If you can’t put a finger on why email doesn’t always work, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How much unrelated junk do you sift through daily?
  2. How many times have you stopped working to answer the “ping” of the email to read some nonsense.
  3. How many times has your concentration been broken by the “You Have Mail” screen?
  4. When did you last get copied in on an email that was only of peripheral interest to your work because somebody felt the need to “share” or “justify”?
  5. How many times have you felt the need to copy people on an email who, if you’d conducted the communication by ‘phone, wouldn’t have been included?
  6. How many times have you been mis-understood because you typed in a hurried, informal manner to somebody who doesn’t see email as less formal?
  7. When you last answered the ‘phone did the caller say, “have you got my mail” and they’d only just sent it?
  8. When you last met a colleague in the corridor did they ask you what you’d thought of their email. When you said you hadn’t got round to reading it, did they look like they’d been snubbed? Did you feel bad for not having read it?

I could go on but my day is like this. I have to get discipline and stop interrupting myself. But I can’t. Ping, here comes another one.