Ever lost an email, or had someone send you an email to ask you to resend an email from a few weeks ago?
It happens to the best of us! Even the ones who say ‘I need three days to catch up with my email.” My first response to people who send me an email asking me to resend that errant mail because they can’t find it, is: “Why bother? Why don’t I just tell you about it over the phone?”
But no, some folks will not have it because they want to scrutinize the digital paper trail to see who else was on the list, what precise time it was sent out (is there a deeper meaning why it went out at 5:32 pm on a Friday?) etc. I admit I’ve asked people the same dumb question. I’ve lost mail in my labyrinth of folders, however well I have organized them.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that email is one of the most not-so-social communication tools we have ever welcomed into our lives. The time is near when we will quietly shed our email, or at least only use it as a backup, rather than a main way of connecting. What will we use? More about that in a moment. For now, here is my list of why email is messing with our social lives.
1. Email forces us to ‘write’ not chat. Somewhere down the line we were brainwashed into thinking that email was like letter writing, and needed to be erudite and very, um, grammatical. (Inserting words like ‘erudite’ and deleting words like ‘um!)
2. Email apps tend to be always open. We can’t seem to shut the damn thing off. If we had someone in the office talking non-stop at us, we would shut the door, wouldn’t we? The constant stream of faux communication makes us neglect the real communication opportunities around us. Ever tried to talk to someone who’s temporarily ignoring you because he/she is ‘firing off an email’? Exactly!
3. Email does not encourage others to join in or drop off. The ‘thread’ we create forces others to be part of the ongoing chatter. The fact that it arrives in our ‘in-box’ makes us feel compelled to act on it. Result: more useless chatter.
4. Email is group-unfriendly. It does not easily lend itself to group discussions that get archived somewhere other than on our own email server. We can’t easily tell which person in the group is taking a lead, who is teaming up with whose idea, and what sub-groups are potentially forming.
5. Email lets you embed (and fools you into receiving) the useless data. Who needs logos (when you’re sharing flight information). Or fancy textured backgrounds. Or animated icons?
6. Email doesn’t easily lend itself to knowledge repositories. Email threads are horrible if you want to crowd-source an idea. (OK, Google Drive is fabulous in this aspect, but what about non-Gmail users?)
7. Email has no ‘layout.’ I don’t know how best to put this but a social environment needs to have a certain architecture. A front door. A few ‘hang-outs.’ Some visual appeal. Online communities will never be as social as the offline groups we are part of, whether they are PTAs, book clubs, professional associations etc. But at least they have some design criteria with human interaction in mind. No matter what you do to pimp up your email program, it still looks like a big boring list of to-dos.
Four years ago, Gartner predicted that some social network type application will replace email for 20 percent of us business users by this year! Not sure this has happened.
The Chat App phenomenon has proved to be the answer for now. It’s a hybrid of email and texting, and doesn’t become a time-suck like Facebook. What’s best –since it’s something we do on our phones, not PCs– it’s easy to jump into a phone call. Once again plain old telephony to the rescue!