Emails consume too much of our lives

Edward Tsang 2009.09.17; updated 2010.09.03

Email is a useful tool. Unfortunately, if not contained properly, they can be beasts that eat up most of our lives. And they have.

We have improved our means of communication, but ended up having poorer communication.

Emails are useful

Emails change our way of communication. They expand our communication span: they allow us to communicate with a large number of people efficiently. We can read them in our own time. I am glad that we have them.

Emails expands our communication span

Emails allow us to communicate with more people more efficiently. This doesn't result in us reducing our time spent on communication. With emails, more people are spending more time on communication globally! Obviously, some of us spend our time on communication wisely, and some do not. This is an individuals choice. Personally, I need serious concentration and therefore am careful in limiting my communication time.

Email flooding

Spams are annoying. Luckily many of them can be recognized. I use two email filters. Thanks to their hard work, I only receive tens of legitimate emails per day. (My filters tend to filter out legitimate emails rather than let through junk emails.) Unfortunately, for those emails that pass my spam filters, it is pretty hard to tell which email contains important information, and which one doesn't. I will not ignore someone who comes up to say "hello" (unless I am suspicious of who they are). As a result, I have to spend a substantial amount of time on emails. I know some read emails more diligently than I do. They live on the cyber space.

The "I've already told you" syndrome

Not all emails that we receive are necessary, ligitimate though they may be. We receive tons of emails telling us services available (whether we want them or not), who is available and who is not (whether we need to deal with them or not), procedures that we should follow (whether we are already following them or not), etc. People who send out such messages discharge their liabilities. If you don't follow the procedures, they could say "you've been told".

Force-feeding information doesn't work

I call these emails force-feeding emails. They are sent to satisfy the senders' needs, rather than the receivers'. When people receive too much information, they don't read them. They may be unwise to do so, but no one can afford the time to read everything, let alone reading them carefully. How many people read the software agreements before clicking "accept" to install a piece of software?

Force-feeding emails eat up a lot of our time

"Force-feeding" emails are time consuming to handle. If I don't file them carefully, I wouldn't have the relevant information when I need them. Filing these emails only takes up a little bit of time. Unfortunately, they accumulate. These emails eat up our lives!

Case for "information on demand"

Email senders should attempt to make information available when the receivers need them, not when the sender wants to disseminate them. It is not easy to achieve, but at least they could try. Emails should be succinct, with detailed information put on the web, encrypted if needed.

So much lives could be saved...


Related article: Cost of robustness

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