Everyone who really likes e-mail raise their hand.
Luckily, I can't see how many of you there are. I suspect there are a lot of hands in the air. Mine are not. Why? In the last 12 hours, I received nearly 70 e-mails, most of them useless. But there they are, taking space in my computer and taunting me. I'll auto delete most but then wonder if I got rid of something important.
E-mail has a lot of advantages, of course. It lets you stay in constant communication with the office, for example. It lets you keep in touch with friends without putting pen to paper and stamp to envelope. You can buy things using e-mail.
But even its most loyal fans have to admit it has some disadvantages too: Keeping you in constant touch with the office, keeping you in touch with friends, and making it easy to buy stuff.
Notice any similarities between the advantages and disadvantages? They're the same. Let's take them one at a time.
Who really wants to be in constant touch with the office? Sure, sometimes it's necessary, like if there's going to be a party coming up on a day you weren't planning to be at work. An early-warning e-mail could get you to change your vacation or travel plans so you can make the party. Or, if there's been a department reorganization while you've been away, an e-mail could let you know whether it's worth coming back to work. But otherwise it can be a nuisance.
For example, no matter where you go, people at work can reach you—and give you more work or ask for the status of work you're doing. Even when you're on vacation. Yes, I know, if you check your e-mail while on vacation you deserve what you get, but sometimes it's a matter of survival. You can get so many e-mails that you spend your first three days back answering them. You may as well change your job description to "E-mail Reader/Responder." You won't get anything else done.
The more time you have to spend on e-mail the less time you have to think. And thinking, not e-mailing, is what results in progress.
Regarding the constant contact with friends, that's okay but it's no substitute for face-to-face contact. It robs us of our social skills—and our ability to use our wits to get out of social engagements we want no part of. Declining an e-mail request to get together is easy. Doing it in person requires fast footwork. And e-mailing friends is not even a good substitute for letter writing. Books have been written about the correspondence of famous pen pals like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, or Adams and his wife Abagail. Writer Ernest Hemingway's letters to his various artist friends are on display at the JFK Library. Will there be similar literary collections of e-mails in the future? Only in courts and law offices pursuing Enron and other companies.
And as for using your e-mail to buy stuff. Well, maybe that's okay.
There's another aspect of e-mail that can drive you to distraction: spam. There's more of it than ever as I'm sure you've noticed. Spam used to be something you ate. Now it eats your time as you delete what could be 20 or 30 spams a day.
Am I being too harsh? Perhaps. But someone has to take a stand against a system of communication that drains your energy and keeps you away from the more important things in life, like playing video poker or just daydreaming. Agree or disagree? E-mail me about it.
Reach Teague at firstname.lastname@example.org.