Seminal Article - The Tyranny of Email

Reply Sat 29 Dec, 2007 09:36 am
I'm in the hunt for an online article which blows the whistle on the evil of email, and its use in the workplace. The 20+ folks who work for me have literally become slaves to their email accounts. I acknowledge that email does have value as one method of communication, but it shouldn't become an end unto itself - it should obviously be a means to an end.

Many of my employees have completely forgotten how to talk to customers on the phone, or in person, or even how to communicate with their co-workers, except by email. I know that it's had a huge impact on our productivity. And I can't believe that somehow we've got an exclusive franchise on this problem either.

I've got a high school intern in our group working on a program that will canvass the number of emails we send and receive as an office over a specified period of time. I suspect that in a week's time that "count" will potentially be in the low five figures. Then I want to do some research on the amount of processing time all those messages require, and see if we can recover some productivity, just by highlighting that messages number and suggesting a target that we should all try to reduce our sent and/or received messages by.

I was intrigued to read a couple of years ago about a CEO who recognized this same "email death spiral" and had even stipulated one day a week where no email could be used in the company. I had to laugh when I read that it required some folks to contact co-workers in person or by phone, only to find out that they were just across the hall or in the next cube over from them. I'm not ready to go to that extreme just yet, although I know it would cause a tremendous wave of consternation bordering on a medically diagnosed panic attack for some of my folks.

I don't want to set myself out as some sort of email heretic and position myself to be burned at a virtual stake in the digitial public square, but the madness has to stop. Anyone have a suggestion on an actual article or an online search source for this type of periodical article search (and no, Google is probably not right for this type of literary search effort).

Any help out there, or any other fellow heretics in the audience?
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High Seas
Reply Sat 29 Dec, 2007 10:45 am
There's help out there!


In the story, Harold the Hamster receives a visit from an information coach to help him with e-mail and information management. Harold is a person who turned into a hamster because e-mail and information trapped him on a figurative hamster wheel.

Harold and his coach think aloud as they explore his e-mail habits and inbox to find the problem areas. The banter between the two gives the reader insight into why something doesn't work and how to fix it. Their comments mirror what many of us think when we're drowning in messages. Though cheesy at times, the story quickly explains the how, what, and why without confusing readers with dry writing.

I was eager to discover the secret of COTA, the concept for creating folders named Clients, Output, Teams and Administration. COTA also represents the order of priority. The Clients folder receives top honors on the hierarchy than Output. Administration gets thrown to the bottom of the pile where it belongs.
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ebrown p
Reply Sat 29 Dec, 2007 10:46 am
I am sorry, but I feel exactly the opposite.

Email is the most efficient form of communication. It has several advantages.

1. It doesn't interrupt me. I can read my email when I have set aside time to read it-- not when I am in the middle of doing work.

2. It is much easier to organize. I can set up filters to make sure I get all of the email I want to read (I am particularly interested in viagra and increasing the size of certain body parts)... and can postpone, or delete the emails I don't care about right now.

3. It has a automatic record of what happened. If I am solving a work problem in email, the record is there. I don't have to take notes.

The phone is obnoxious. It demands my attention right away (even if it is not important) and it doesn't keep a record of what happened.

In truth, I take phone calls from family. Pretty much anyone else, from business contacts to old friends gets in touch with me through email.

I will be quite happy when the telephone... which is already obsolete, fades into history.
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ebrown p
Reply Sat 29 Dec, 2007 10:53 am
Oh... what I really like is how email has helped me as a customer.

It used to be when I had a simple question, let's say about my bank account, I would call and get put on hold for a undetermined amount of time. I would usually put the music on speakerphone so I could kind of do something else while I was waiting-- but I would have to give my attention to the stupid telephone until someone answered (or until I gave up in frustration).

Now companies from my bank, to my insurance company, even to my dentist, can answer my questions through email.

I can ask a simple (but important) question on a website (security is important for banking etc.) or by direct email. Then I can go do something else for a few hours until the answer is emailed to me.

This is more efficient for the companies and the customer service reps, who can have time to research a problem or handle a sudden backload without having a customer on hold.

It is also much more efficient for me as a customer since it eliminates the need for me to wait on hold.
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Reply Sat 29 Dec, 2007 11:03 am
Don't know if this will help but it might be (en)lightening.

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Reply Sat 29 Dec, 2007 11:10 am
I've worked in both situations. In one job, email was used to pass info and for low priority communication. There was a bit of phone communication but the majority was face to face. If something could wait for an answer it usually went via email.

In the other job it was used for everything. No one talked to each other. People came into work and sat in their cubicles and never talked to each other at all. Email in that job became an excuse and a way to blow off getting work done. If something didn't happen when it was supposed to the excuse was always "Well, I sent it to Bob in an email!". People didn't follow-up and they didn't make any sort of priorities clear.

So in the end I don't think it is inherently bad or good. It becomes one or the other based on the culture that develops around it.
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Reply Sat 29 Dec, 2007 08:02 pm
Okay, well I thought I would let this topic lay fallow for a couple of hours and see what sort of responses it elicited. Again let me say up front, that I agree that email is a valuable and effective communications tool - if used correctly and not exclusively.

First, it appears as though we've gotten some balanced feedback so far, with both proponents and opponents on both sides. Again, while this discussion is beneficial - my ultimate objective is to identify some sort of existing article that will help me quantify or frame some of my problem from an empirical standpoint. So far, none of what has been offered up is exactly along the lines of what I'm specifically looking for. I guess the best news, is that a command performance for my virtual incineration in the universal square of public opinion as an email heretic, is at least temporary on hold.

I did note that the most vocal proponent of email (ebrown_p), included his pictorial profile - which in my former intelligence analyst capacity speaks volumes. His picture, with the prominent flag display, is very remiscent of similar pictures I've seen of federal executives, who are distinguished members of the U.S. Senior Executive Service (SES).

I could be wrong (I have been before and will be again . . .) and I will not suggest any direct inference, but the country and the critics are still tallying the "score" from at least one person from the SES, who placed an inordinate amount of reliance on email, and it cost the country and some number of people a huge penalty. I'm talking about Mike Brown and the unsatisfactory FEMA response to Hurricane Katrina. The federal government is still using that experience in its training programs today, to teach its future senior executives some valuable lessons about effective communications, and how in times of disaster - email ain't it.

Now that I've thrown a couple of stones at the SES (and in reality, I'm probably throwing them at my future self . . . ), any other feedback or better yet, articles along the lines of what I'm looking for?
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Reply Mon 6 Apr, 2009 09:01 am
I posted this topic up a while back, since I was pretty sure there were both social and cognative downsides to the overuse of email. I was more than a little surprised to see that the prevailing opinion was in favor of email (by folks I will now assume had been coerced over to the "dark side"), although no one was able to cite the definitive article (or mostly any article) about the detrimental effects of the overuse of email.

I guess I was gratified when I saw a recent article in Newsweek (http://www.newsweek.com/id/183719) that finally confirmed what I had suspected all along - that email is having a detrimental impact not on the interpersonal capabilities of individuals, but also on the cognative and intellectual processes, to the extent of impacting the ability to concentrate and be creative and innovative in everything human beings attempt to do - but especially in the workplace.

I forwarded that article to our Deputy Director, and he indicated that he also found email to be the bane of his existence, mostly due to the sheer volume he received on a weekly basis. He said that he was going to start off with issuing a directive suggesting a voluntary reduction in email, mostly through a more thoughtful use of email, and if that didn't work he would likely institute some more stringent measures.
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