Emails keep coming back to blight my life, on daily basis. In spite the fact that I try to minimize my own output of emails, the overall rate of emails I have to deal with continues to increase. I have in the past expressed strong views, publicly and privately, about emails and even gave tips on how to be more effective with this mode of communication; to no avail, of course. All my protests about too many, unnecessary, and bad emails are met with nods of agreement and presumption I am talking about ‘others’ who are elsewhere. It’s like driving; everyone believes they are good drivers and it’s other people who are rubbish at it. Technology will soon solve the problem of bad driving by introducing driver-less vehicles. I hate to think what the equivalent breakthrough for emails would be: emails that write and send themselves? This is when I unsubscribe from all email accounts, forever.
You may say to me: You should filter unwanted junk emails, unsubscribe from targeted emails, ignore forwards, and all the other email management tricks. I do all of this stuff and what I am complaining about is the actually filtered emails from people I know and have some work or social relations with.
I have been monitoring my inward flow of emails and I am confident that 75% of all my emails are unnecessary or avoidable. As I am not the busiest or most popular person on earth, and that my business and social contacts are a fairly normal bunch, I can only conclude that the overall percentage of useless emails trafficked on daily basis all over the world must be in the region of 75%, give or take a couple of percentage points.
I have also concluded that, like with cars and weapons, it is not those instruments of mayhem that are to blame, but the operators themselves. There are four particular villains of email I call the ‘Four Horsemen of Email Apocalypse’. The original horsemen of the apocalypse symbolized Famine, War, Conquest, and Death. My four anti-heroes represent Entrapment, Replication, Redundancy, and Sanctimony.
Entrapment: this person is a socialist who insists on as many people as possible read his prose because he believes it’s good for them to know he has a headache; he is out of the office and for us to contact someone else; he has seen something funny; his cat had just delivered 7 cute kittens; or he is not happy with HR new dress code. On and on he shares with us his mundane life in all its glorious inanity.
Replication: this one likes to forward to us almost everything he receives, including his well-considered thoughts on the matter. He often labels his forwards as ‘Must Read / See’ to ensure we are sufficiently excited to drop everything we’re doing and read whatever garbage he throws our way. If I read or watched everything sent to me, I probably would be wiser and better informed, but I wouldn’t have a job or a life to live.
Redundancy: this person sends the email; he then proceeds to engage in redundant activities to back it up. He sends a text saying he sent an important email that requires immediate notice, and occasionally, he picks up the phone to ask if we had read his email. After all, what more important matters than his email do we have to deal with?
Sanctimony: he is self-righteous, competitor and overly courteous. Very often, he is the one who begins the conversation with a long and rambling email that requires a good part of our time, and soul, to go through and digest. He knows not when to close out a chain of emails unless he has the last link in the chain. Only when we stop responding to his email does he reluctantly feel the matter is concluded. Even when he receives a final reply saying ‘okay, thank you’ he will respond with a triumphant email saying ‘you are welcome!’ Note the ‘exclamation mark.
Having to contend with any of those four horsemen is bad enough but, to be caught in the middle of an exchange between two, three or, God forbid, all four types is truly apocalyptic.
The problem that we all have is abundance (accessibility and cheapness) of the services available. In the ‘good old days’, we had to pay for stamps to send letters so; we were more discerning in what we wrote and how often. Once we have access to a computer, emails are free so, why ration our utilisation of email? The same is true of texting, local phone calls, and all other free apps; once you paid for a smartphone, you want to justify its existence.
In recent times, there have been a number of attempts to create a ‘No Email Day’ starting on 11/11/2011, 12/12/2012 and so on. Last year it was 6th June and I understand this year it will be 7th July, which happens to be a Friday so, that should make it easy for the Muslims amongst us to observe. There is the obligatory #NoEmailDay to tweet about. So, I am going to observe that day by not sending or opening any emails at all. I hope you will do the same.
Finally, please spread the word amongst your friends and colleagues about #NoEmailDay, but don’t do so by sending out an email, the irony would be too much to take.