email Reflections

Email: I’m Sorry, but I Hate It

Drowning in email
Credit: flickr / -Xv

I loathe email as a form of communication, I do. Having an iPhone has not made me any better at dealing with it, in fact it has made things worse – I can now monitor it in dead time and if there’s nothing urgent then there’s no need to actually check my email.

So, if I can’t reply in 3 sentences or less it waits until I next attack my inbox. I have a goal of once a week, but there are always more interesting things to do so once a month is around average. Normally after I’ve completed something significant I’ll look at my overflowing inbox and try and make some inroads. The thing I use my iPhone for most w.r.t. email? Deleting it.

A truly urgent email that requires me to use a computer might get a response within 3 days. I know, this seems unreasonable and honestly, I don’t get that much email compared to some people. The point is, I get more than I want.

email pebbles
Credit: flickr / Will Lion

Two summers ago, I quit Facebook, didn’t have a cellphone, and only checked email once a week. The effect on my productivity was phenomenal. That was when I created much of the material and ideas that became my programming curriculum that was taught across the US and that I taught in Shanghai. These ideas have since evolved further to and I created this workshop. I’m hankering for another such period of freedom from electronic communication, but I’m not sure I could give up Twitter. Note – my job at that time was extremely social, so it wasn’t like I had become actually reclusive, just electronically so.

Honestly, I think the reason I hate email so much is that primarily what I receive are requests to do things. It’s also more intrusive than the forms of communication I prefer (blogs via RSS, and Twitter) – someone who has my email address can subscribe me to the mailing list for their latest project (grr), they can’t force their content into my Google Reader. The 140 character restriction on a Tweet forces a more to-the-point communication style. Scheduling things, despite the fact that I make my calendar accessible, is something of a nightmare.

And – email is private. For some things, that is totally appropriate and I do love receiving emails from friends as it feels more personal than a Facebook wall post (even if I don’t demonstrate this with a prompt reply). However when I chat on sametime with one of my mentors, Sacha, it often seems to evolve into a blogpost for one, or both of us. Which is great – because then other people who weren’t part of the conversation can participate too and learn from what we’re sharing.

Ultimately, I know I’m going to have to keep using email. I know I can find ways to manage it better – unsubscribe from things aggressively, get blog comments in my RSS reader instead, aggregate my accounts in gmail and use the filtering there.

But – I’ll be honest – I’d probably prefer to hear from you by other means. But, before I sound too anti-social, obnoxious, and ungrateful… it’s really nice to hear from you at all. So if you loathe Twitter, email can be our compromise. Just don’t tell the people asking me for things.

Credit: xkcd

6 replies on “Email: I’m Sorry, but I Hate It”

For the record, a friend from a company called Palantir asked me to send you a note as recently picked up a signed copy of a book I wrote. I was happy to do so. Unfortunately, it’s taken ~ 30 minutes to figure out the best way to contact you (without following you on Twitter/LinkedIn/Etc) is to post to the blog… on this particular entry… which was, relatively, a lot of work.

I get that email is often a flood of uselessness, but it is a means to make a quick connection with little overhead.

In unrelated news, come have lunch at Palantir — some of the brightest folks you’ll meet.

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