The Evils of Email
Ahh, email. A convenience we have all come to rely on and frankly could not live without. And why would we even want to? It’s super fast, convenient and literally ALWAYS at our fingertips. It’s a great way a get a point across to the masses and (often) get immediate reaction — or better yet — action. It’s in many ways replaced the cost and inefficiency of snail mail. And best of all — look at all those trees we’re saving from an early demise. Sounds good. It definitely is. Definitely even great in some ways. How can something that saves us all so much time and money (and trees) be nothing but great? Well, I hate to say it — but it also truly sucks in lots of ways — especially in the workplace. Yes, that’s right — I said it sucks. And before you roll your eyes, call me an old crotchety bitch and stop reading, do me a favor and read on. In fact, do yourself a favor and read on. Because I bet if I don’t share any evils of email here that you haven’t thought of or experienced yourself (yet), I’ll start to make a hater out of you too.
So, what can be so bad about it? Well, here are my top ten reasons why I think email can be evil in the workplace. And sometimes drive me to drink. Literally.
10. The long winded sender (or responder): We’ve all been there. An email so long that you open it, cry a little inside and shut it immediately. Is whatever I needed even in this novel I just got? You tell yourself, “I can’t deal with this now.” And you may even print it out to read on the train ride home to avoid stressing over a weak or complete lack of cellular signal in the subway. So much for saving the tree.
9. The group email: Simply put — FML. Because the second you are unfortunate enough to be on a group email, you know what that means. No matter what it’s about — a legitimate work issue, the fact that someone is visiting the office with their cute new baby, that Jenny’s birthday is today, or that there’s leftover stale bagels from the morning meeting (yum?). Despite how well intended the email is — with EVERY group email, WITHOUT fail, means you are now subject to….
8. The group responses: There’s nothing good about this. Sure, you may get a little information you could possibly use. Sometimes even a little laugh. But in most cases, the benefit of the tiny laugh or small bit of useful information you get is quickly overcome by the debates and pissing contests between those windbags that just need to get the last word in — sometimes over NOTHING. Did I say FML?
7. The abbreviated response: Now, while the long winded response is pretty bad — the abbreviated one can be just as annoying. For instance, you send a (quick) email and ask in closing, “What time works for you to meet? 3 or 4?” And you get a one word response back like, “yes”. What the hell does that mean? Are you agreeing we should meet? Does this mean either time works for you? While you tried to save yourself (literally 2 seconds) time, now I have to torture myself to send you another email to clarify. Thanks a lot, asshat.
6. The abbreviated (completely asinine) response: In a cruel quest to save time — I suppose from typing real phrases or words (with actual) letters, you get a one liner like “c u l8er”. What the hell does that say? Did he mean “color” and he somehow slipped an 8 in there by accident (and also a “u” instead of an “o”)? Did he mean “cooler” and doesn’t know how to spell that either? Oh wait — this Morse code means “see you later”. Oh, ok. I am at work, right? I thought for a second I was having a seizure — or maybe a text message with an 11 year old. I think after this one, I may do everything in my power to avoid seeing you at all costs later — assuming you don’t actually nail me at the water cooler. Who does this at work?? You should not be allowed to use email (or actually be employed) ever again.
5. The forwarder: Forwarding a message is often necessary and doesn’t HAVE to be an evil of email, assuming it’s done in a thoughtful and professional manner. What makes this act evil is when the forwarder does just that. And maybe just add their own little touch of “see below” to (pitifully and unsuccessfully) make it their own. Really? So you’re basically now asking me to sift through something that was sent to you, to figure out what it means. That’s pretty shitty and lazier than lazy. I think the best way to fix an abusive forwarder, is to forward the email back to them. And ask them to call you to discuss once they’ve clarified the issue. They deserve email privileges with you to be revoked after this potential waste of YOUR time.
4. That awful realization — that you just sent your email to the wrong recipient: I already said FML, didn’t I? Well, it works here too. Most times you can just apologize and ask the recipient to disregard. But a “FML” is the appropriate reaction, if the email was confidential information — or worse — about the person that you actually sent it to. Breathe, try to retract it or do whatever damage control you can to fix this one. Try not to hang yourself — it happens. And probably has already happened to a lot of us.
3. The (un)emotional email: You know what lost in translation means, right? And email is a major culprit. Sometimes emotion does not come across as the sender — or recipient — intends. It leads to misunderstandings and potentially more miscommunications. And then the email volley begins. Please stop. Sometimes, it’s necessary to go back to use a device from back in the dark ages to avoid a potential debacle….PICK UP THE PHONE. No one likes to do that anymore. Try it. You may like it.
2. The URGENT, exclamation point email!: Have you heard the story of the boy who cried wolf? That’s another classic from the dark ages. Familiarize yourself with it if you’re not already. And understand this. Not every email can possibly be urgent and take precedence over the 10 previous emails you just sent in the last hour with that dreaded exclamation point. Worse than the URGENT email alone, is when “NEEDED BY COB!!!!!!” is in the subject line. Give me a fucking break and understand this. You’re not getting any of this by COB (!!!!!!).
1. That email notification sound — when you’ve finally gone to bed: There may not be anything worse and why this has earned my top spot. Should I get up and see what it is (at midnight)? You have angst just thinking about it. Do I get up and check it, so I know what I have to deal with tomorrow? Maybe I can just answer this quick and have one less email to answer tomorrow. The short answer to this quandary — NO. Unless you are actually expecting one — emails that come through at midnight are one of two things. They could be spam. Or from someone who sadly is just getting through their pile of long winded emails, group emails and responses, abbreviated Morse code responses, forwarded bullshit, (un)emotional emails and emails from cyborgs that clearly have no capacity to decipher what’s urgent or not. Rest easy knowing that’s all that notification sound at midnight means — and you can go to bed feeling nothing but empathy for this poor lost (in email) soul.
What’s the one thing my top 10 evils of email have in common? Yep, they are all a complete waste of our time. That tool we’ve embraced as a time saver can actually be costing us so much more of our precious time. We all want to be efficient. We all want to get the work done. But let’s actually get it done, not just push it around through email. Aside from being mindful of all of the above, let’s try this. Get back to basics — talk to your co-workers more. That’s right — get up, stretch those bones a little and go have a quick face to face conversation with the person you’re emailing — that may be sitting at the desk right next to you. Pick up the phone and have a discussion with someone. If it’s warranted — have a meeting to avoid long winded group emails. As hard as it may be to resist temptation sometimes — check your email only a couple times a day when you’re very busy. And know that it’s ok to shut down by a certain time at night. In the quest to save time, we are losing ourselves — and our minds.
So, stop and think before you send that email. Is it a time save or a time suck? If it’s a suck, remember this — stop it, drop it and do a public service. Save a lost soul today from email. They’ll feel better and may actually say thank you. Not email it.