Email is dead. Long live email.

There has been growing discontent with email over the past year or so, but it appears that many people’s hatred for this particular form of communication has now finally started to boil over.  Several articles and blog posts over the past few weeks lamented the death and/or evilness of email in no uncertain terms.  In this post I go into a few highlights from said email hatemail, followed by some thoughts on why we shouldn’t be so fast to close down our email accounts.

The problem with email is…

First, a disclosure.  The excerpts below are just that: excerpts.  While I attempt to keep the context and the original intentions of the authors intact, I encourage you to read all these articles in their entirety.  They’re not only thoughtful and well-written, but they also lay a solid foundation for what I think is a very worthy and much-needed debate.

In the article Why Email No Longer Rules”¦, the Wall Street Journal announces that email is king no more:

But email was better suited to the way we used to use the Internet””logging off and on, checking our messages in bursts. Now, we are always connected, whether we are sitting at a desk or on a mobile phone. The always-on connection, in turn, has created a host of new ways to communicate that are much faster than email, and more fun.

Caught up in Google Wave frenzy, Techcrunch laments the following in Google Wave And The Dawn Of Passive-Aggressive Communication:

Google Wave is not just a service, it is perhaps the most complete example yet of a desire to shift the way we communicate once again.  For many of us, email is simply not cutting it the way that it used to. It’s a sedentary beast in a fast-moving web. It uses old principles for management, and this is leading to overload.

Sticking with Techcrunch, in Relevance Over Time, Nik Cubrilovic argues that email sacrifices relevance in order to present items in a chronological order:

Chronological order needs to be abandoned in favor of relevance. Without relevance, our ability to manage large sets of information is inefficient. The technology for relevance exist today, for eg. spam filters are able to tell us what we definitely don’t want to read. Real world information retrieval and organization is based on relevance, either what somebody else believes is relevant to us, or what we decide is relevant. Newspaper stories are not laid out in the order that events took place and libraries do not catalog their books in the order they were published.

Jeff Atwood, in a post entitled Email: The Variable Reinforcement Machine, explains why he think email kills productivity:

Oh, sure, we delude ourselves into thinking we’re being extra-productive by obsessively checking and responding to our email, but in reality we’re attending too frequently to our own desire for gratification and sabotaging our own productivity in the process.

Why email is essential in business communication

After reading each of these articles, the same question kept coming to mind: How do these authors use email? They certainly don’t use it the same way I do.  Because I simply cannot imagine replacing email with Twitter and Facebook – and even Google Wave.  As far as I can tell, here are the major complaints about email:

  1. Email is not real-time enough. I don’t understand this complaint at all.  How is Twitter more real-time than either sitting at your desk with your email client open, or checking your BlackBerry for new messages?  Yes, Google Wave lets you see people type in real-time, but do we really need that?
  2. Email is not dynamic enough. I don’t want email to be dynamic.  Email is a way to communicate static thoughts.  Tools like Google Docs, Dropbox, and Versionshelf are there for collaboration.  But email is a linear record of events and discussions, which is essential if we want to preserve any kind of sanity in business communication.
  3. Email is chronological, not relevant. This complaint perplexes me the most.  If email isn’t relevant, you may want to write different emails, or just spend a little time setting up a few filters to get rid of Hilton HHonors statements and other useless newsletters.  Chronology brings order.  Even though the most important things might not be at the top of your inbox,  timestamp is an important element in helping us separate the urgent from the important.
  4. Email reduces productivity. More than being on Twitter all day reduces productivity?  I’d like to see how productive people are who do business in 140 characters.

In short, I’m just not ready to give up email.  It serves as a very effective To Do list for me.  It allows for accurate and extensive documentation when needed, as well as quick decision-making with a variety of stakeholders.  Long live email.