Building a community of women who work in technology – hosted by Betsy Speare, Jennifer Marsman & Helene Love Snell

Why I Hate Email

“Gasp” will be the response of approximately 300 of my coworkers with whom I spent 7 years with building Exchange 5.0, 5.5, 2000, and 2003. Honestly, I’m feeling a little nervous about posting this one – mostly because it seems sort of heretical after all that email work we did for which I am immensely proud. And, before you read this post, be warned – it’s not my most politically correct post, which is sort of pitiful because it is a blog related to diversity. Anyway – there’s a section in here that is funny – funny like the movie Hangover is funny. So, there’s my confession and your warning. Hope I won’t be burned at the stake. Now you can find out WHY I HATE EMAIL!

Betsy Speare, Principal Program Manager Lead, Microsoft Windows Server, Happy Family member, new Green Lake, Seattle Resident, 15 years at Microsoft, EWU CIS grad and chicken farmer (total 3 now – getting eggs)!

I’ve been threatening to write “Why I hate email” for a while– but really, I use email in all the ways I hate it. So, I thought I would start by discussing…

…Satisfying things about email:

  1. RTFM (where M=MAIL): At work, a chest beating bully indignantly declares “YOU did not tell ANYONE about that!” You don’t even have to answer because someone else says – “RTFM.” On your behalf! THAT is the best.
  2. The one line question: You have a simple, 1 line question. You put that question in the subject line. The respondent replies within 1 minute with a simple one line response. I LOVE THAT. No chit chat, no manners, just Q AND then A.
  3. I can’t remember what I said: But I said it in email. It’s there in black and white and I can refer to it. Great for dates and commitments.
  4. Meeting Requests: electronic sharing of calendars is a beautiful thing if you insist on having more events/meetings than you can keep track of. My Dad would have been disgusted at the ridiculous complexity of my life that requires a calendar like this, but that’s another blog topic. #3 is probably related to this.
  5. Makes the world smaller: there was a time when email was the premier tool for communicating quickly and cheaply around the developed sections of the world. Now there are a lot more, but important to keep that in mind in the benefits.
  6. Forwarding: seriously – is there anything better than when someone makes a hilarious statement or has a great email alias and you can then forward it to your co-worker in a meeting and you are both laughing and trying not to snort? A real example I recieved: “…At least it isn’t the guy I used to know … named takeshi – last name was something like tanuda – alias he was given was takeshit. Almost as good as dong wan kim (who got dongwank) or …”

Zach’s story: Zach is 14 and he grew up next door to me. He’s recently started playing the drums and I was viewing his latest school concert on his Mom’s phone. I asked him to email me his concert schedule. His answer: “I don’t do email. I text or Facebook.” Ok, I now get what the rest of the email technology community has understood for a long time. Email is going to die.

Zach & Alison Wulfman, with my daughter Livvy… the night of the email convo…

I imagined a life without email. I thought about all the crap I have to deal with in email. The never ending days old email threads that never give quite enough context anywhere at the top and require you either read the whole thing or start another thread begging for a summary. The rude “RTFM” attitude (oops), the expectation that email actually replaces human interaction and the communication that never stops! . Ick. Life without email would be AWESOME.

Since it was on my mind, I began noticing that email was never referred to in a positive way. My co-worker, Kenneth, admitted that he had been “using email too long” and just tried to avoid it now. I personally banned laptops in a number of “warteam (now called shiproom, more PC)” so people would pay attention. Ironically (and this really is irony John), that was in the Exchange team. Some people got mad.

Now, here’s the opposite. A great friend of mine, CJ Corbett has recently begun working at Providence Hospital. A faith based organization, they start each meeting with 1 minute of quiet reflection time to leave behind other topics and get focused on the subject at hand. Then sometimes, they have a prayer or short parable to illustrate what they are trying to accomplish. I’m guessing no one is forwarding jokes or reading email in that meeting. Sounds nice.

My brother, Jamie, works at Google. He told me that at Google, people commonly reply to a long email with TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read). Now – that makes sense – I might start that in my group. Of course, I might get RTFM as a response.

Anyway – bottom line is that mail might be more efficient, but it’s not more fun. People are fun (unless they aren’t – I guess you could make an argument in some cases that email was better than talking to some people, but I digress from my fundamental view of life). If we are using email to increase the number of topics & people that we can communicate TO because it’s more efficient, I wonder if we are losing track of what matters in human terms, and that the is the RESPONSE, not the reply.

What I’m going to try:

  1. I’d like to listen and talk to more people and read less email.
  2. I would actually like to read more comprehensive documents (with a good summary) and quit wasting time hitting delete and scanning for valid information (Sinofsky has some good thoughts on this, but now I can’t find the post… might be an internal only one).
  3. I’ll keep using email as a calendar and notes to myself system.
  4. I’d like to quit getting the “RTFM” look, so I’m going to quit giving it.
  5. I’d like to say: I enjoy learning about what my colleagues are doing. I’m not deluged with minutia
  6. Play around with the new tools more – I keep getting pointed to www.pintrist.com.

So I’m going to give it a shot. I’m going to change my expectations of email and see how people respond. I won’t be perfect, because it’s a hard habit to break – but this stuff is evolving quickly and we need to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Actually – I’m excited to see where we end up. People like Zach just have an expectation that instant communication is lightweight, convenient and on his terms. You can see the pieces coming together – texting, facebook, twitter, pintrist – it’s time for email to really evolve. Can’t wait.

Comments on: "Why I Hate Email" (3)

  1. Mo Martin said:

    I love the comment about doing less email. I often remind folks that email isn’t two-way communication. Seeking the value of communication F2F or via phone helps you identify with who is on the other end of the conversation. And it gives you the opportunity to get a better sense of their intent and their conviction around the topic.

    Food for thought http://howtosavetheworld.ca/2010/03/23/the-value-of-conversation/.

  2. Thanks for the illustration of irony. I have some fairly long and complex (but very fascinating, nonetheless) thoughts on irony. I’ll email them to you. Without a summary.
    Speaking of irony. I remember a young lady who worked in the Exchange build lab — about 15? years ago — telling me how vitally important email was to the world. How it was used to communicate with people “in space.”
    No matter. A wise man once said, “changing your mind is a sign that your thinking.”
    Goes without saying that that wise man was Sting(y).

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