People No Longer Read Email So Can’t We Put An End To It?

Andrew Paterson
Apr 14, 2016 · 4 min read

Like anyone today who relies heavily on digital communication “streams” to conduct business and personal affairs, I’ve reached a point of no return with email. Why? Because people no longer answer you. Whether you’re close to them or not, email (very) often goes unanswered. The culprit is discernable with ordinary math — there’s an overflow in pure numbers. The average person receives over 110 emails a day making things difficult at the best to stay on top, and much more for the digital tribes. Then there’s the increasingly important issues with filters who’s very job is to put things into perspective but is so infrequently updated, that it masks priorities more often than it surfaces them. Add to that the majority of UI’s that compound the difficulty to see clear when emails are in collapsed mode on smartphones & tablets and finally, if for some reason someone does click on your message, there’s the “ordeal” with having to actually…, read them.

What has happened?!

When we first set out on the digital voyage, there was just email (which by the way, no one taught us — we sort of “got used to it” over time); practically instant messaging across the planet and it was, remember, somewhat overwhelming. But soon after, SMS came into play and that took most often another device to use and hence was the start of multi-tasking across devices. Some smart people thought it would be great to bring SMS onto our desktop / laptops and then other’s led us to believe that it would be better to do the reverse which started yet another trend. Social networks then came along and showed us that lot’s of things can happen in “digital communities” that needed to be created and curated and navigators then evolved to help us use them all in parallel. Not to be impressed, more savvy entrepreneurs invented new types of messaging apps that did all sorts of fun things (that we’re not related to the very reason we started using these services in the first place) like sending & receiving emojis, videos, photos, badges, stickers and whatnot, which was embellished by the rise of smartphones & tablets that made all this easier to use and consult. And lo and behold, we’re now in the age of robust communication solutions that combine every possible tool and feature we use in a work environment bundled into one giant instant messaging app (Slack).

Let’s take a step back.

According to Forester, the average person today (not the techies who have even more) can have upwards; 3 email accounts, 2 phone numbers (2 SMS lines), 6 social channels, 2 corporate services and 3 messaging apps. This makes for a lot of content to follow and respond to and making things more confusing, all of which don’t readily mix. Some content is private and split into a variety of closed or open communities, others is group or events based and more, related to work or other public occupations. Then there are the “buckets”. Some content is either image or video heavy, some of it is time-based (meaning it can disappear), others long or short text and some even in different languages and project management formats like ToDo’s or Comments on existing discussions on subjects or files. There’s even the increasing exchanges found in a variety of vertical interests like health, leisure, dating, entertainment, news, forums and food (and I’m sure I’m missing some). So let’s be honest, how do you want someone, even your best friend, to even find your email and then sit back, with a tea or coffee and read through your long and involved prose on whatever brings you together. And yes, the same stands true for your business contacts, especially those that you’re just reaching out to for the first time.

Email was the first text based foray into almost synchronised communication and it did work, admittingly extremely well, until things evolved. Today’s connection heavy relationships rely on asynchronous flows of VSM (very short messaging) that are increasingly relying on links to external applications, animated gifs to convey emotions and lately, AI bots that do the brunt of the search & retrieving. Our attention span has dwindled to apparently 20s, images taken over from words, spelling no longer a barrier and acronyms the new Morse Code. My questions remain. Why is email still around? Who (what company) will bring out a platform that will bring together all this noise and make some music out of it? When will I be able to jump into anyone of those streams and drop my piece of thought and have it presented alongside everything else in an equal manner thus increasing my chance of being answered? What will we call this new “river” of intertwined communications (like calling someone is just “calling”)?

Email RIP.

Andrew Paterson

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