Enough Email Already

When old-timers like myself first began applying information and communication technology to development there was no such thing as ICT4D, no world wide web, no broadband, and no SMS.

Working in the Nicaraguan parliament after the Sandinista revolution, my first assignment was training staff to use WordPerfect for MS-DOS on a pre-hard-disk IBM PC.

When I first registered a public email account in 1985 you could use just your first name as an ID in-front of the ‘at’ sign; even if it was a name as common as my own: tony@greennet.org

Back in the ‘olden days’ of the 198Os the main limitation of email was that almost nobody had an email address, and the few that did would only use their dial-up modems to check their inbox once a week.

Email was initially a tool used only by über-geeks who were fluent in Klingon and owned the full Star Wars VHS box-set – but within a decade a corporate email password was a task for day one of any job induction.

Yet as 2009 draws to a close are we witnessing the demise of email?

Now that every Tom, Dick & 491-scammer has an email account, we have become oppressed by mountains of unsolicited correspondence and besieged daily by spam, out-of-office and meeting scheduling message.

spam spam spam spam

It is not  just the marketing spam and pre-payment scams alone that are the cause of this nuisance. It is also the excessive volume of email that professionals receive on a daily basis that has become a problem. That sheer weight of correspondence is why email has ceased being the productivity boon, that it undoubtedly was, to being a net burden within ten short years.

Sending an email is so easy that we spend precious hours every weeks emailing about anything and everything. It is used routinely, incessently, and indiscriminately; everyone is copied in. We even email people who work in the same office as us, for goodness sake!

People are spending more and more of their working week endlessly processing email to the point where some have now begun to actively question its efficacy.

People have started asking to not be included in new email discussion groups as they simply can’t cope with the email volume they have already. Sometimes emails are mysteriously ‘never received’ because in reality, there is insufficient time to respond to them. eNewsletters increasingly go unread, not due to disinterest, but due to being overburdened by the volume of the incessant ‘incoming’.

If we are all obliged to dedicate more and more hours per week to processing mail then the number of hours available for creative, strategic work is necessarily reduced in direct proportion.

Perhaps it would be more productive for me to close down my email account altogether and dedicate the time saved to actually talking with colleagues again, to work on research & development, brainstorming and strategising?

I have felt for some time that I have reached this particular tipping point.

Yet in many countries on the other side of the digital divide the percentage of the population using email in their everyday routine remains modest. As it becomes widely available will more efficient ways of managing email volumes be innovated or will the majority world simply leap-frog to web 2.0 comms tools to avoid being deluged in the spam and scam?

Is email reaching the tipping point when it ceases being a boon to productivity and becomes a burden that holds us back?

What would it take for you to quit email entirely?

I have had enough email already.

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