To many, electronic mail seems to be the last thing they look forward to. In a typical day, I might see and hear so many people gripe about email that it starts getting to me too. There are “email zero” movements and people that help you manage email clutter – but what’s wrong with this picture? Email has to be one of the most perfect forms of communication we have. Proof of that is on it’s enduring longevity, but also in the many ways we use it today.
I want to clear one thing up before I explain this. The best way to communicate with another person will always be in-person. There are a number of substitutes, but communicating with a person in front of you is always going to trump any other method. If you think email is a better way to talk to someone than face-to-face, we need to have a different kind of conversation.
That being said, when the option to speak with another person face to face is not available, electronic options come into play. Of them all, email is likely the most incredibly capable and versatile option we have. Yes, we have text messaging, Facetime, Phone Calls and good old snail mail, but none of them let you can send quick messages, long and detailed messages and even a novel (if you wanted to, in much less time than it would take you to write it).
Many aren’t aware, but early email standards date back to 1973 and the basic idea of electronic mail itself was in use long before that. Email is is one thing that seems to have stood the test of every computing fad, and still continues to be in use today, even in the face of so many attacks on it’s basic usefulness.
And those attacks are many. There are the efficiency gangs looking to get inboxes everywhere to a “manageable” size. Perhaps they’d be happy to “manage” email out of existence? There are the malicious groups who continue to SPAM people with unsolicited mail and use messages as a way of transporting viruses. There are also services like Shortmail, that limit messages to 500 characters. Many have succumb to the shady side of email, but there have also been incredible advances in mail filtering too. One that comes to mind is the gray filter of Google’s Gmail that let’s you filter mail for SPAM and a new variant of unwanted mail called BACN.
So, why is email still with us? What make email so amazing and just as useful today as it was back in the days of text and the PINE email reader? Here are some reasons:
1. Email is non-monopolizing – With most forms of communications, you are required to read or hear it and respond immediately. This requirement for immediate communication tends to take control of your (often limited) attention and at times take you away from what you’re doing. Email can come in, but the sender rarely expects an instant response. Today, the speed of email movement is faster than ever and smartphones have made people insanely reachable, but email gives the reader some leeway.
2. Email lets you think about it – You may be the type that shoots off messages immediately, but one of the most amazing things about email is that we can write them think about it, edit, and think some more. You can take all the time you need to write out that perfect email before sending it. Contrast that with chat services that tend to integrate immediacy as well as notifications of “User is typing” which generally forces you to be quick.
3. Email is compatible with the Internet – Like nothing else actually. No other form of communication integrates with what the Internet is and works as well. You can generally get your email on every device and wait until you access the device you want to access that link or attachment. Try sending a link to a website with Adobe’s Flash in a BBM chat to someone using a Blackberry. You aren’t going to get the same results. Over the years email has changed to accommodate many new technologies including video and larger attachments.
4. Email is simple – And, that’s perfect. So many new technologies are focused on simplicity (hello iPad!) and email is the original simple interface. All you need to send an email is an address – firstname.lastname@example.org – with that, your email application knows everything it needs to know to send a message.
5. Email is complex – Want to reach a thousand people in a few seconds? Email can do that (newsletter). Want to create an automated notification system? Email can do that (IT helpdesk tools). Want a to have a serious conversation with someone while simultaneously keeping another person in the loop privately? Email can do that (bcc).
6. Email is cheap – On today’s Internet, an email address is easy to get for free. With services like Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo – there is no way that, if you have Internet access, you’ll have trouble getting an email address.
The next time you see someone griping about being overloaded with email or complaining about having too many messages and not enough time – ask them this question “You you rather have 300,000 tweets in your inbox instead”? We should all be mindful of appreciating blessings like these kinds enduring technologies.
“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.”