First off, what is email. I know, I know, its electronic text messages sent via http or smtp or any of the popular email protocols via the internet. It was one of the first technologies implemented via the internet and today is responsible for a vast majority of the traffic over the internet, trumping the world wide web and associated traffic. Besides this, what exactly is email? It is not as formal as a memo, though many use it to convey memos throughout an organization. Neither is it as informal or dismissive as text messages. We still have faxes and signed legal documents so email holds little official communication weight. Like any technology, it can be spoofed, corrupted, or faked to prove anyone’s point, with proper access. Today’s companies and governments run on it, society runs on it, life before email is only a faded memory and we can not fathom life without it or before it.
The problem with email, besides the whole gray area of where it fits into our practical world, is we have become chained to it. We spend hours each work day checking, reading, replying, and filing emails. Some of my coworkers get hundreds of emails a day, making contacting them virtually impossible. If I need a vital sign-off for this or that I have to either A) leave voice mail due to my time zone, incurring International Long Distance charges B) send instant messages to the person in hopes they are hiding with an “appear offline” status or something and will be awake to reply or C) send an email to their manager or coworker to see if they can pass along the message the next time they see them! I kid you not people, some of my coworkers have unread email from 2 to 3 months ago, and it is not their fault! The more important your role in a company the more email you receive. CEO’s have to employee people just to filter their emails! I work for a fortune 500 company, our executives can easily get 1,000 emails a day ranging from personal emails, business operational needs emails, departmental cost review emails, share holder emails, special projects review emails, proposed and planning emails, policy and publication review emails, professional organization emails, leisure activity emails, financial bulletins, and the list keeps going. This makes getting any help from them, in large projects this is key, nearly impossible.
The more important you are, the more emails you get and the harder you have to work to keep on top of them all. My largest dread from returning from vacation is clearing out my inbox, take a week off and when you return your first day or two is devoted to reviewing past emails. Email programs are great in they can have rules created and custom folder structures Most of us use an email program to manage our inboxes. Inboxes take up server space, resources, bandwidth, etc. so they are limited on size which requires our constant attention to keep from filling up and causing problems demanding immediate attention. Important people, or those who receive excessive amounts, have to keep on top of their emails just to keep their accounts from being shut down due to sheer volume. Email server managers always complaign about bandwidth utilization and space. Want to see a company panic, let their email server crash or loose connectivity. Too much of anything is a killer.
Email programs allow us to create filters, sending this email to that folder or that email to another folder as soon as they come in. This helps but is by no means a perfect way to segregate or prioritize the emails. Email programs have limited filtering capabilities, so they are not perfect when your filter or rule space is exceeded. Add this to program limitations, like Outlook’s .PST filter limitations (any .PST file getting over 3GB will cause issues and make Outlook begin to run wacky) a .PST file is the file holding all your folders, rules, profile, etc. The problem with email programs still boils down to the initial problem, you still have to read all this email and then decide what to do with it. Of course we find a solution so the next thing we do is… yes, you got it, push harder. Email programs allow us to make folders to put emails in, now we have 50 folders and rules to put important emails in them and BAM! Now we have to check 50 folders constantly! We write more complex rules and filters, we exceed the engineering until they re-engineer it, then we exceed it again.
Add things like people tagging emails with delivery and read receipt requests, flagged emails with timers, and people who mark everything ‘high priority’ or urgent (which usually means it isn’t) and you get email burnout. My business email has turned me so off to email, I hate to email my friends. Email has made us all act like we have ADD, read mail notifications cause us to stop what it is we are doing and open the latest communication. Blackberries and smart phones now bring our work email home, constantly intruding into our personal lives. We now live in an email blizzard with millions of email snow flakes screaming for notice out of hundreds. So here, put me on record. “I hate email”. Has it make my life easier, better, more productive? No. I am spending so much time reading email that I have to take work home, causing me to read more email. While I can communicate quicker, I find my emails sit in other people’s boxes for a couple of day (and sometimes require more emails to get replies), and like wise, I almost have to keep an old fashioned pen and paper list of emails to ensure I answer all the urgent ones the same day! This has not made life better. Productivity, sheesh, throw that out the window. My work is now in stop and start mode as I have to pause for emails, while working, in meetings, writhing reports, nearly everything. No my live has yet to improve because of email, the negatives have overwhelmed the few positives I could think of.
Besides complaining what can I do? Nothing! It is like trying to stop the tides or the sun from rising or setting. Email is an integral part of everything. Need service on your gizmo, email tech services from their website. Need directions to your friend’s new apartment, send an email. Boss needs a new report, get email status requests twice daily till the deadline. Got a question about that travel reservation or weekend class, email the company and they will get back, with some canned email template that really explains nothing and clarifies less. Nope, the world now runs on email. In the ‘70’s it was carbon paper, everything was in triplicate. Now email has risen from academic experiment to toppling governments as evidence of shenanigans. Yep, it’s an email world and I just have to deal with it. I might not like taxes, bleeding heart liberals, liver and onions, long lines, pollution, or cold weather but like email, I have to deal with it. So if you have found email to be a burden, a false promise or hope, please let me know. Email, like anything else, is best when used in moderation but in our lives it seems like we can only use it in excess, too much excess to be valuable.