Several articles have come out in the past few weeks that each in their own way offer complaints about too many demands put on all of us by that old folk demon, email. While each identifies at least some of the problems with email or uses email to some extent as a stand in for information overload or for American overwork (see chart from The Atlantic below), none really offers any solution other than to explain how you should control your email usage, you should not let it dominate your life, you should take time away from devices that give you access to email.
As per usual, most all offer a list of how one should behave. If you behave in these ways, all will be well they promise. There are two problems with this approach: First, no one can follow a set of seven plus productivity rules with any consistency for any long period of time. Second, even if you were to be able to do so, the habits and expectations of others and the practices baked into the technological infrastructure that is email would eventually overtake you.
I’m not a technological determinist, but the technologies must and are changing. Yes I want more change more control and more channels. I am not in any way advocating a return to some falsely imagine email eden. Nor do I think as some do that getting rid of email will change our social tendency to look, perhaps too anxiously, for more and more information or to bind ourselves to our celebrated overwork ethic. I hope we do address those problems. And I hope that as technologists, we can continue to develop more and more appropriate communications and messaging technologies that are (at this point in time): highly collaborative, mobile preferred, whitelisted, terse, quick, highly interactive, context appropriate, available to all devices, and with highly manageable and customizable communications streams
With Labor Day approaching, two Thompsons (Derek in The Atlantic and Clive in The New York Times) explain that we are overworked. Email is the culprit as the titles of the articles tell us. First Derek’s “The Joys and Sorrows of Late-Night Email” gives its secret away in the URL “email-is-killing-us”; there are no joys to be had. We are tethered and sorrowful. We spend too much time even during our work hours “monitoring” our work. “We are doing this to ourselves,” Derek tells us. But there is little offered in the way of relief.
These changes can’t happen through personal behavior: The policy needs to come from the top. (If your boss regularly emails you a high-priority question at 11 p.m., the real message is, “At our company, we do email at midnight.”) And some changes may seem like matters of housekeeping, but have major repercussions, like keeping a separate email box for your personal messages. You can’t ignore your work inbox if that’s also the place where friends send you weepy accounts of their breakups.
For Clive, WE are not the problem as individuals, but as a socially and professionally dysfunctional society WE are the problem.
As someone who has followed this practice for over 3 years now, I applaud her and welcome her to #noemail. Each new semester, I give my students a #noemail lecture as a way to encourage them to think differently and more effectively about their communication technology usage.
But where, briefly, I differ from Dr. Duvall is that I am very happy to communicate, to interact, to carry my phone, to avoid departmentalization of my time. Pads, pods and lappys are all fine in class in many contexts — not all classes at all times of course.
The #noemail goal isn’t to regress or reject technology but to move to more appropriate technologies leaving the losers, like email, behind.
Let a thousand interactions bloom! But let none of them be email.
Two completely different takes on email and #noemail came out last week. They are bookends to the ongoing discussion about how to communicate effectively. One looking backwards and arguing for an imagined utopia; one looking forward (or at least in the present) and arguing for better interactions and better productivity.
Knoll acknowledges that email is hard to avoid for external interactions (but not impossible I quickly add), but that email culture can be replaced by learning to: Ask Questions, Share Information (using Hackpad), Passing Around Files (using Dropbox, Slack and Trello), Asking for Feedback (Hackpad), ToDo Lists (again Trello), Notifications (Slack), and Reporting to Others (WorkingOn).
All and all, a useful medium length post of a self-conducted best practices in communications amongst knowledge workers and coders with real results. Recommended.
That time when you were about 16 – 26 is that only time that music has been really really good. Probably several other things fit in that same category and time. For Alexis Madrigal, writing for The Atlantic, email is one of those things. Just like some one in his 40s explaining the music of his youth to death, Madrigal overexplains email and converts no one in his article “Email is still the best thing on the Internet.” If it’s so great why is email being abandoned and reengineered? Kids! Listen up! According to Madrigal: “Email was a newsfeed, was one’s passport and identity, was the primary means of direct social communication, was a digital package-delivery service, was the primary mode of networked work communication.” I mean WAS. But is no more. Kids-these-days with their Instagram, their WhatsAp, their Snapchat, their WhateverElseIsCool, they just don’t get it. They should rediscover email — and buy vinyl while they are at it.
Most of Madrigal’s article nostalgizes email, but even at that he does get something right. Whatever replaces email in whatever forms — including I agree Instagram, SnapChat etc — would be better for the customers and better for their companies in the long run if there were open standards for such services. Yes, I plan to make that case in October at the 13th annual WWW/Internet Conference in Porto, Portugal.
This past two weeks brought to my attention four challengers to email overload and a promise of more #noemail alternatives. The three applications, like many emerging alternatives, attempt to include mobile friendliness, terse messaging (sometimes with stickers or visuals), highly interactive communication and context appropriateness.
Charleston SC’s Post-Courier interviews Twitpics founder, Noah Everett, as he challenges email with Pingly. Okay not so much challenges as offers a delay of sorts. Pingly is said to come “from the phrase ‘Ping me’ (send me an email later.)” And in a display of tortured syntax: “We’re building basically from the ground up a brand new email service.” If someone is on your Pingly whitelist, their messages get marked as important. Despite the hype, Pingly is really an interactive whitelist management system for your inbox. Not #noemail.
Meanwhile, TechCrunch’s MG Siegler aka @parislemon, who himself did a brief #noemail stint, looks at signals from Twitter about extending their DM feature as an email killer. Siegler promises or predicts only a maiming of email in his title, but he opines and predicts and wishes from much more. I do too. DMs are one of my favorite features of Twitter, a back channel to the public Tweet Stream (as Siegler also notes and loves). An additional shared passion we share is for the forced terseness of Twitter communications: “But wait, Twitter DMs are only 140 characters, that will never work! In the context of email, that would very much be a feature not a bug.” But remember this article isn’t about what is now available so much as a wish list for Twitter developers.
I haven’t yet tested, Slack, which The Verge hypes as an email killer in an interview with founder Stewart Butterfield. Butterfield, himself has been #noemail for over 4 years (he says), so we can expect some insight here as well as a working product. Slack was developed, not coincidentally, about 4 years ago as a chat tool for Massive Multiuser Online games (MMO) — where terseness, interactivity, whitelists, and context control are essential. So far so good. Even better, Slack integrates communications across applications. As Butterfield says “It’s all your communication in one place, instantly searchable, and available wherever you go” or in market-speak “It’s a messaging and search platform that creates a single unified archive accessible through powerful search.” Despite the promise of #noemail, Butterfield hedges his bets by offering to integrate email into Slack in the future. In doing so, he repositions Slack from an email killer or an alternative communications integration play. The sort of Swiss Army Knife with too many specialized blades to fit into your pocket.
Vergers talk about Slack mostly loving the search but also talking about teams using Slack. And rightly dissing email.
Washington Post writer, Brigid Schulte, gets to Mailbox Zero and tells you how. Like getting into Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. Well, a little more that that. Schulte proposes a set of practices that will, if followed with discipline, at least reduce your inbox size if not enhance your life. If you are anxious enough to be disciplined. What we know about people, just look at your desk clutter for a second, is that more than a few of us have that kind of self-discipline. And we look askant at those who do, seeing them as OCD or just anal. Not that Schulte’s practices are bad ones. They are very good. But they are also just simple common sense productivity practices whether in regards to email or to any other business task that can overwhelm you.
On January 30, Luis “elsua” Suarez visited our UNC School of Information and Library Science senior capstone course on Emerging Issues and Technologies to talk with us about his 6+ years without email while at IBM.
Luis brought a lot of good insight to the class as he did a Google Hangout with us from his home on Gran Canaria. Luis lives in Africa, reports in Europe and works most closely with a team in North America — without using email.
Luis, who was extremely generous to spend time with us during his transition, will be moving from being a Change Agent within a very large global and hierarchical organization to advising and assisting organizations of all sizes to work better by learning about Social Business practices.
Luis has been a global presence already as has been noted in Wired, New York Times, and at Outside The Inbox dot EU (among others). His experience and personal engagement will definitely be a leader and advisor to call on.
Working with Luis has taught me not to look for the smartest person in the room but to look for the smartest network that has someone in the room with you.
Looking forward to his and CAWW’s future adventures.
Tis the season for email scams and hacks and trojans. As the holidays go into full swing, you suddenly find that “You Are A Winner!” or “Reset your password here” or the most evil of all “Someone changed your password — login to confirm or reset.”
This last works not just with email but with Facebook and other services as well. It may arrive via txt, FB message but usually via email. Bill Hayes writes somewhat forgivingly of his experience with the human engineered phishing of his friends by his compromised Gmail account in today’s New York Times, “Thank You for Hacking Me”
Not to take the fun out of the story, but one upside is that Hayes lost 9,187 items from his Gmail inbox. Clearly he needs better email management — and #noemail.
Last month a friend of mine had her Facebook account cloned. The new account immediately began friending all of the real person’s friends. As soon as you were friended, the phishing began.
I returned the friend request to see what was up. Soon I got a “Hello Message” then I decided to have fun:
[fake friend] Hello
[me] hello [friend's name]. Maybe you can help me
I think I left a wallet at your house [I have never been to her house]
[ff] I will check it out and get back to you
[me] maybe under the coffee table
[me] near the red chair
It has some very important papers in it
on the subject we were talking about
[me] I can’t say much about that here obviously
But there is a lot at stake
[me] be very casual while you are looking
[me] this is very important. you know the chair i’m talking about?
[Chat Conversation End]
Of course I reported the false account just after. And it was soon gone.
Why be negative?
it’s not quitting email, it’s communicating in better ways. #noemail is saying “I’m here but I don’t live at my desk” “I’m social when more appropriate” “Say it quickly and be direct” “Less covering your rear at work by CCing your boss at every move; work it out your self” “More sharing” and in the end a richer life.
As for email, it was adequate for the needs of the late 20th Century.
We don’t live there any more.
Second, my ole pal and running buddy, Tom Wilkinson, who does no email and no social media is featured in Charlotte Magazine telling his tall — but also true — tales in “The Entertainer: the Backstage Live of Tom Wilkinson.” No page can contain Tom’s talking and animated presentation, but this is a good tribute and a good primer. Email could not do him justice, but maybe YouTube or Vimeo could.
I had a great time this Monday at the RTP Foundation taking part in 5 minute talks on open source projects called “RTP 180: Open Source All Things.” While I talked — slightly over my 5 minutes, I’ll admit — just over 60 slides representing about 1% of the projects currently hosted at ibiblio.org passed by on the screen at about 3 seconds each. That could have been a little fast for some people, so I’ve reposted those slides here:
MIT’s Daniel Smilkov, Deepak Jagdish, and César Hidalgo have created a great Gmail metadata visualization tool called Immersion. The first thing that Immersion does is map your email interaction networks in a nice interactive way. You can see networks emerge, strength of ties (via number of interactions), isolated mail bombers (usually listservs or alerts), and relationships easily and beautifully.
For me this is particularly nice as you can control the time periods that are mapped. So I mapped my email interactions for the three years before I quit email, then the two years after having stopped doing email, finally the past month of #noemail (this past month).
Mail networks pre-#noemail (3 years)
Mail networks since practicing #noemail (2 years)
Mail Networks in the past month #noemail (June 2013)
Luis recounts some of his motivations for beginning to Live A Life Without Email over five years ago. The speculates about our futures at work, at home and in the world. Looking at our kids is a good way to learn the ways of an evolving world — even if one lesson is to start forgetting what you’ve always found useful and helpful.
Luis includes this video of kids evaluating their current social media (SnapChat, Tumblr, and Whisper.sh are not mentioned)
Paul Lancaster of Sage (UK) aka @lordlancaster, Luis Suarez of IBM Spain (joining the Hangout from the Canary Islands) and I did a Google Hangout to discuss International #noemailday, #noemail and #lawwe (Living in A World Without Email). Good to chat with my international #noemail friends about what we do (and don’t do), how we’ve done it, and what we encourage others to do (and not do).
On current trends, then, if email response times keep increasing by 10% a year, and assuming that an average postal delivery time in your country is two days, I estimate that by approximately 2020 it will be faster to get an answer from someone by writing a letter than by sending an email.
Tomorrow 12/12/12 is No Mail Day. The second No Email Day. The first was 11/11/11. The idea is to try to go 24 hours without email. What to use in its place? Most anything else from F2F, Phone, txt, social media or smoke signals.
Here are several #noemail stories to keep you warm as we approach the Day. Turn up the gas log fire. Burn a few pixels. Relax. As Mother Jones said: “Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflicts.”
The first report “What Mimecast knows about email” looks at the inboxes of corporate email users in a handy interactive infographic format. Mimecast is unique in that they survey users in the US, UK and South Africa. Some small differences there to be seen.
The second report “What end users think” looks at user opinions and deceptions. For example, 25% of those surveyed say that they sent emails late at night from home in order to show their commitment to their jobs. 57% reported spending over half their work day on email (27% spent writing; 30% spent reading).
A third report or infographic looks at “What IT Professionals Think” about their email. Only 30% of IT professionals delete mail from their archives. 64% fear that social media poses a security risk. Only 1 in 5 or 20% believe that social media has an impact on email use.
Not exactly social or #noemail related, well perhaps indirectly related: The Pew Research Center’s Excellence in Journalism Project released a new report on the “Demographics of Mobile News” . The data represented by Poynter shows a significant change in device use from smartphone to tablet at about age 50 (more granularity of data would be helpful in understanding the points and trends of change). One simple explanation, that I’ve been giving out at my recent talks, is that this is exactly the age that our eyes begin to change. When we need, but resist bifocals. When the print is just too damn small!. The rise of tablets will hasten the death of email among the group most resistant to change — men over 50.