Monday, April 13, 2009

Make Them Go Away, Please!

I turned on my computer after the first days of Pesach were over and went to check my email. I've got four accounts, each used for a different purpose. Most of those who might be sending me "social" email are also frum, so there weren't any messages that I expected to be there from these people. So, please explain how I ended up having to delete almost 500 messages that arrived during one three-day period?! This got me thinking about email in general, the result of that thinking below.

Many of today's technologies use as a selling point that they are great aids to communication. Communication is faster and better if you use them. Let's take a look at email.

Okay, it takes less time to receive an email message then it does to receive a letter. That's a plus in many cases. The rain and snow won't blur the ink on an email message the way they can on a regular letter. Another plus. If you have lots of people that you would be writing to every month then email can be cheaper. Here's where things become a bit blurry. Would you actually be sending 300 or more letters every month? Perhaps if you are in business you might, or maybe not. Maybe, just maybe you might make a phone call. Maybe, just maybe you might go and see someone in person.

My husband's company, like many/most companies today, has an open floor plan consisting of mainly cubicles, with a few offices on the periphery of the space. These cubicles are completely open--no doors, no ceilings, and walls that aren't as tall as most people when standing up. And yet, driving my husband totally nuts, people working on the same floor send each other multiple emails on a constant basis. No one thinks to pick up a phone and certainly aren't just getting up and going to another cubicle.

One business magazine has estimated that working people spend from 2-7 hours PER DAY sending and responding to emails. Just when is it that they are taking care of the "real" business? And you would think that working people who deal with email constantly would be efficient at using it. Afraid not. The following is a fairly typical exchange, and should illustrate why a whole lot of what is done by email would be done better on the phone or in person.

Email#1: Hey Yankele, we need to get together to discuss the ________ account.

Email #2: I thought the ________ account was going just fine?

Email #3: Pretty much so, but there are a few things _________ wants to change.

Email #4: Like what?

Email #5: Too complicated to get into by email. When can we meet?

Email #6: I'm pretty flexible. What's good for you?

Email #7: I was thinking lunch.

Email #8: Sounds fine. Tuesday?

Email #9: Hmmm. Wednesday would be better for me.

Email #10: Can't make it on Wednesday. How about Monday or Thursday?

Email #11: Monday would work. 12:30?

Email #12: I'll have to check with Moshe. He should be there too.

Email#13: So check with him and let me know.

And now the whole rigamarole is going to start all over with Moshe. Quicker? More efficient? Not really.

Email is one of those two-edged swords that has many positive and also many negative points. If it's going to be of real benefit then someone has to think about teaching business people when it is appropriate and when other modes of communication make more sense. And not just business people either. Plenty of "social emails" that follow the scenario above, driving me totally bonkers. The phone company used to have as its slogan "Reach Out and Touch Someone." Email providers seem to have as their slogan "Reach Out and Bury Someone."

My favorite email received over Pesach? An advertisement for a special email filter that will pre-sort your emails for you and delete those you have no interest in before they get placed in your mailbox. Ironic really that this ad arrived via email.


BrooklynWolf said...

Emails provide proof. Sure I can call X and ask them to discuss a project. But if I email X, then I can show my boss that I took action (and, if necessary, cover my butt if X drops the ball).

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

Email avoids endless phone tag.

I do agree with you, however, that too many people don't know how to use email most efficiently and effectively, and don't know when it's better to pick up the phone instead.

Right now my pet peeve is the subject line and how many people don't fill in a subject or don't put in a useful subject. For example "meeting" is not a useful subject line. "Meeting on 4/22 Re Jones Account" would be far better.

Ari said...

two words: instant messaging

Knitter of shiny things said...

E-mail is also good for if you have something you want to communicate late at night or at some point when you know the other person wouldn't be around to answer the phone. Especially if you're likely to forget what it was that you wanted to communicate.

Also, I feel like e-mail has had a positive effect on academia, in that my professors are usually good about responding to e-mails, and a lot of the time they're up at crazy late hours (I used to think that since professors were adults, they must go to bed at a reasonable hour because that's what adults do...) and I can actually get an answer to a question that night.