What’s the problem with email?

Many people seem to be struggling with email, drowning in constant stream of messages.The simplest answer to that question is volume. The amount of email received daily exceeds people’s capacity for processing and reacting to them.However I think this answer is simply scratching the surface. There are three basic elements that contribute to the problem with email.

Equality

Anyone can send you an email message all they need to know is you address. I can send an email to anyone in the world no matter who they are provided I know their email address. There are no barriers in terms of access, special costs, permissions. Think of spam or so called unsolicited email, the reason we receive so much of it is the fact that someone with computer can send email messages to everyone. Every email message is equal, when emails are passing through the wires each message looks the same no matter what’s the content. Sure there are filters to block things we don’t want but this does not stop it and spam still forms 90% of email traffic.

Simplicity

Email is one of the simplest communication channels we have available. Just type the email address, content of your message and hit send. You’re done. Your message will be received in seconds, minutes at most. Getting access to email is plain and simple  too, all you have to do is access one of major portals in your country and go through sign up process. Usually it takes three steps because email providers want to make it easy. It’s equally simple to communicate on one to one basis as to email dozens or thousands of people. All you need is their addresses.

Ubiquity

Thanks to recent technology advancements and popularisation of internet connected devices we can receive, read and write email anywhere. Our smartphones and tables periodically check for new messages to grab and alert us with a loud ping. Email knows no delivery hours, unlike standard post email can reach you at 1p.m. or 1a.m. regardless what you do or where you are. Email does not know any boundaries a message from Africa will be delivered to Europe in the same way as a message from South America to Australia. Email is not bound by platform restrictions and difference that’s why you can receive emails from a colleague that uses Linux, a family member using a Mac and you can respond to them using your Blackberry smartphone. All platforms can read and understand the which makes it truly system agnostic tool.

Circling back to the original question, the three elements above on the face of it the seem to be main offenders. One could think it should be possible to make it more difficult to send email or we should ban use of  devices in some places. Unfortunately these three features of email make up exactly what it is now. A highly effective tool, available to millions that is easy to use and that be be accessed from any where.

Back to the Question

So where is the actual problem? I think it’s our behavior. Email is just a tool, a very useful one, if you consider all the benefits that it brings.There are many people preaching email bankruptcy or that we need new tools because email is broken. The problem comes from the fact the people abuse email, make it more difficult for and others to read and respond email. Put various expectation on it with out consideration for how other people function.

Try to think how you use email and how you can improve on it so it’s easier others. As much we can complain about email and how others misuse it, the power to change is in your hands. Change your own behavior. Let others learn from you.

Remember one last, thing the more email you send the more you receive.

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