Email Can’t Do Everything

by Rajiv Chatterjee

Source: Wikimedia

From ancient cave paintings, petroglyphs and pictograms, to the formation of the alphabet, humanity’s intrinsic obsession with language and communication has been what has separated itself from the rest of the Animal Kingdom. The creation of communication tools has enabled us to improve both the rate at which we are able to communicate and the complexity of our communications. Yet nobody predicated the impact email would have at its conception in the 1960’s; but email has irrevocably altered the way we communicate. In today’s world it takes seconds to send a message to a colleague or friend across the world, where this same feat took days, many modes of transportation, and a level of unpredictability, less than 100 years ago. The way we use email has also changed drastically over the last decades. It is now the most common method of communication in almost any workplace. Despite the pervasiveness of email in our lives, there are those who believe that it is dying.

Email was first introduced in 1965 at MIT and it wasn’t until 1971 that Ray Tomlinson sent the first email. However messages sent across the Internet were only given the moniker of email in 1982. As of now, over 100 billion email messages are sent every day. This translates into 14 messages for every human being on the planet. That’s a massive amount of information being exchanged and it’s no surprise that the majority of this information being sent is either redundant, spam, or endless meeting invitations. An article titled Is Email Evil? by The Atlantic, written by Adrienne Lafrance, referred to email as the “cockroach of the internet”, in the sense that it’s this free entity that allows anyone to send anything anyone, it is resilient, and impossible to kill. Despite the emergence of social networks and messaging services, email continues to be the primary mode of communication, with people on average, checking their email a staggering 77 times per day.

Although the basic precept of email has remained the same, it is now used for elaborate marketing initiatives and collaboration in the workplace. New statistics provided by the Pew Research Center state that 61% of American workers consider email vital to their work, while only 54% consider the Internet to be necessary.

Source: HBR

The real question is has email become ineffectual? The majority of emails received are not vital to operations and clog up an inbox. Furthermore, are we still using email in the proper way, or has it grown to amass several functions that all prove lack-lustre. From personal experience, the use of email to send documents and important files, leads to lost versions and a struggle to remain compliant. Therefore, even if the popularity of email has grown, has it directly caused a positive influence on the way we communicate and collaborate?

There is no doubt that email has been a boon to communication across many industries, but when it comes to accomplishing projects, it is not a particularly effective tool. It is astounding that we spend an equivalent of 111 workdays going through email. The Harvard Business Report states that 22% of our time is spent for other e-mail related activities (searching, archiving, and managing). While reading and writing emails remains an individual responsibility, we could decrease the amount of time spent towards these other email related activities and subsequently increase workplace efficiency.

Source: HBR

The results from the Harvard Business Review reflect how important email is to the workplace. Email is by far the preferred channel of communication and it is also believed to be the most effective. However when you consider how much of our day it consumes, is it really that effective? The solution to increasing efficiency doesn’t seem to be eliminating the use of email, but instead using alternate tools to conduct some of the activities usually associated with email. An area that is in need of improvement is collaboration. There are better ways to collaborate around projects or documents than sending emails back and forth. Email is great for simple communication, but it lacks organization. In order to increase efficiency it is important that we explore options that can separate tasks like collaboration from email.

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