The Triumph of Email

Over the last 45 years, email has morphed from being specialised, to loved, to derided and now barely tolerated. Service providers are offering tools to help you hit “inbox zero,” and it’s no longer a sign of success to brag about the size of your inbox.

So what’s happened?

A recent blog on ‘The Triumph of Email’ – http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/01/what-comes-after-email/422625/ – says that when computer engineer Raymond Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971 the idea that anyone other than his coworkers would want to use email was mad. “The computer was not personal,” Tomlinson said. “It was time-shared amongst several dozen users. Most computers were quite expensive—tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

At first, email was useful, but it wasn’t widely used—it would be decades before electronic mail entered the mainstream.

By 1994, as Internet adoption climbed, the inbox became a phenomenon. “If you don’t have an Internet address,” a then-37-year-old New Jersey man told The New York Times, “it marks you as a nobody. It’s reaching the point that you get socially ostracized.”

As internet and email use continues to rocket, we seem to continue to love the web, but are growing to hate email. Teenagers barely use it (or Facebook for that matter), opting instead for text messaging and chatting on platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. Just six per cent of them exchange emails routinely.

Looking at words often used to describe email, they include ‘overload’, ‘stress’, ‘drowning’, ‘noise’ and ‘avalanche’ and the feeling that you have to be ‘there’ 24/7. Some workers check email up to 343 times a day and there’s even research that every time you get an email notification and you look at it, it takes you 64 seconds to recover.

So, is email dying and is there an alternative?

There are the real-time communications platforms such as Twitter, Slack, Yik Yak, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Viber, Skype, HipChat, FireChat, Cryptocat, and of course text messaging. It’s a wide market and often down to individual communication preference, especially in your personal life.

But in the workplace, despite the growing number of alternatives, it’s far from dead. It’s ‘open’, it works, it’s easy to use, is great on mobile – and just convenient.

It may be more about when and how you use email.

Here’s five tips to make your emails less stressful:

  • Focus: know what you want to say – before writing the email ask

yourself: ‘What am I trying to achieve here?’ and ‘Is this email really

necessary?’ Be specific re what you’re asking for

  • To, CC and BCC – who is the email going to? We hit ‘reply all’ way too

much. When sending an email, ask yourself who needs to receive the

information you’re sending and only send it to those individuals.

  • Keep it short – The less you include in your email the better. This isn’t

a meeting with five or six items on the agenda for discussion. Ideally,

an email is a short, sharp message that gets to the point.

  • Use an effective subject line – It will help readers to find the email

again in the future, and help focus their minds on the subject being

covered before opening it. Think of subject lines as newspaper

headlines: attention-grabbing, short and relevant

  • Read the email before you send it – as a communicator your

credibility is at stake, so make sure it’s right. And

check the tone – could your words be misunderstood at all? If in doubt, leave it for an hour and read it again to check.