Email Woes

I’ve talked about him before, but this post is further confirmation that Merlin Mann is a genius.  He weighs in on some recent New York Times articles about (lack of) Productivity for the average white collar office worker in the US, he made some amazingly helpful comments towards the end of the post.

I would HIGHLY suggest heading over there and reading the whole thing, but here are some of his excellent comments in case you need some cold hard facts for why you should go read it (emphasis mine):

I think it’s important to clarify something here: there’s nothing fundamentally wrong or irreparable about email as a tool. Given my position on how email gets (ab)used, you could be forgiven for thinking I want everyone to write each other letters once a year and ride cows to work. No. Not at all.

My point has always been that, as with any tool, email can be used for good or ill depending on the problems you’ve decided it can solve. One trouble is that our use and widespread adoption of email hasn’t brought with it an equally widely-adopted understanding about how to use it, what content it’s appropriate for, and what expectations we accept regarding when it’s allowed to take us away from everything in our life that’s not email. There are very few shared rules of the road right now. And that’s making life hard for a lot of people.

I’m thrilled to hear that these ideas are bubbling up and getting the attention they deserve; email pain is usually a quiet, lonely, and shameful one, where people’s work and home life suffer from the silent understanding that “too much is never enough” — that trying to tamp down this always-on hysteria is a sign of weakness or sloth. That’s ironic, given the biggest reason we reason use email so much: it’s easy.

There’s no cashier, editor, or therapist through which your message must pass. You set your own rules for what’s appropriate to send, ask, or demand. You decide what it means when someone reacts (or doesn’t react) in a given manner or time frame. Email is still the Wild West, and companies are paying billions of dollars a year to supply the six-shooters and Stetsons. Yeehaw.

Do you feel like email, and other forms of online communication for that matter (chat, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are a net positive for you, or a net negative?  Have you ever actually contemplated what the negatives are in (over?) using these communication tools?  And have you ever considered that they are just that: TOOLS to help us communicate and relate to people.  They are not the point in and of themselves.

A hammer’s for banging nails, and building something you want/need.  If we’re banging a hammer around all the time just because we have it “in our tool box”, it’s kind of missing the point, no?

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