Back on the Soapbox [Subject: Email]


I've been on a soapbox lately about email [I can tell my wife has just about had it with me].  Three recent events have me thinking about this ...

1. On the day of the denial of service attack on Twitter I happened to be in a meeting with David Armano who was giving a talk on Social Business Design.  David discussed [among other things] more dynamic ways to communicate other than email, and how when Twitter [and Facebook] went down that morning, his email inbox was unusually flooded [since people couldn't communicate with him through preferred channels].  While the inbox flood sounds like hell, the fact that he and his friends are using alternative communication channels is very encouraging.

2. I had dinner with a friend last week, and we got into a discussion on the red ! on emails. He is a lawyer [which makes no difference to this story] and claims to have never [not once, ever!] sent an email with a !.  He thinks it's the ultimate form of hubris that a ! - which takes no effort to make appear other than clicking a button - will somehow elevate your email to the top of his inbox.  He was passionate about this.  I was inspired.  I went back and scrolled through my sent folder over the last few weeks for all my emails marked ! ... sure enough very few [if any] of them deserved the !.  I decided at that moment that I will never send another email marked ! unless it somehow involves the physical well-being of me or my family.

3. A few days ago I read "A Manifesto for Slow Communications" by John Freeman in the Wall Street Journal.  It's the right thinking at the right time.  Read it.  Slowly. 

Email is great for memorializing thoughts, CYA and even distributing a message to a discreet group.  And I'm not naive ... I know [for now] this is currently how a lot of business gets done.

But if everything I need to share resides in the cloud [which to me is a simple way of saying my photos are on Flickr, docs on a server somewhere, thoughts on my blog, etc.] then what's the utility/relevancy of email? 

Sending email is inefficient when compared to other media ... have they changed addresses lately?; better make the subject line catchy to stand out in their inbox; check my grammar, it is a letter after all; etc.  Why bother when I can just Tweet [or Yammer, or update the Wiki, etc.] a link in seconds - without all the other noise that goes along with email.  Isn't that more efficient?

In 1996 I was mesmerized by email.  Every new message was exciting.  In 2009 email is more about inbox management than it is information exchange.  It's a labor.

I don't have the answers, but I'm certain a lot of clever people are working on it.  Thoughts?  Am I overly hysterical about this?