Why Email Will Never Die

I keep hearing how email is outdated, rapidly going the way of the actual-letter-on-paper and the fax machine, consigned to virtual antique shops beside bread-and-butter notes and little diamond-chip promise rings. I hear that someday people will laugh at anyone so lagging behind that they still send email. Well, fine, laugh away–but I’m going to explain why it’s important and, for people like me, vital.

People complain that I don’t respond to Facebook messages or that I don’t follow them on Twitter, so they can’t send me direct messages. They say these things as if it’s some oversight of which I have, until they pointed it out, been unaware. Au contraire. It’s that way because I want it that way, and I want it that way for a reason. I don’t know how other people keep track of their information. I suspect, however, that many of them do pretty much what I do.

If you want us to go look at someone’s art or read someone’s blog, and you DM us, maybe you think it means that we’ll drop everything and follow the link right then, that it means whatever-you-sent will get our immediate attention, right? Non. Remember how we’ve talked about the discipline required to work at home, to be your own boss? I’ve been working at home, in a room by myself, for over 20 years. I can do this because I focus. Think other busy people, like, oh, editors, for instance. This means that we don’t drop what we’re doing to follow a link that’s unrelated to the job we’re trying to finish by noon. If we did, nothing would ever get finished on time. So if you DM me, it doesn’t get my attention any more quickly than would an email. Same with Facebook–I’m not going to zip over to follow a link. So a DM, for instance, may wait for days before I have a chunk of time to sit down and follow links. If I’ve gotten a lot of other DMs in the meantime, yours may not even show up unless I scroll. As I’ve said before, I–and, I’m guessing, more than a few other people–use the DM function for emergency-right-this-minute messages. I use it if I’m standing in front of an artist and need to know if one of my editors wants me to snag them for a project. I can snap a photo, DM the editor, get an answer, all while I’m standing there pretending to check email.

What about you? Why is it to your benefit to send an email? You’re arguing that it takes longer and that it’s not as convenient. That’s true, I suppose, depending on how you’ve got things set up. But here’s why it’s worth it. Say you find something online you want us to see, or you have a fabulous blog post about your new project and you think I might know someone who’d be interested. If you send an email, it stays in the inbox until I deal with it. I follow the link, see the art. If I think it will work for someone, I can forward it to them–the whole email, with the link, the contact info, everything. And then I move the message into the appropriate folder. The editor may not respond, or she may say, “Nice!” Then, months later, I may get an email from her asking, “Now, who was that jewelry artist who was using tin cans and watch gears?” I won’t have any idea, of course, but I can go find the email with very little trouble. I saved it, I filed it, I can find it. The search function in Mail is one of my very best friends.

I’m guessing someone’s going to comment and explain some way to save and file tweets. I’m sure there’s something, but here’s the deal: why take time to set up something else, arrange another system that would have to be searched, figure out another way to organize information, when email works just fine? Some of my editors don’t tweet. Some do, but only for personal use. But there’s not a single one who doesn’t have and use email pretty much continuously throughout the work day.

There are reasons we do what we do, whether or not they’re apparent to everyone else. While speed and convenience are what everyone talks about, what we all need to think more about is organizing information. It’s great to have instant notifications of everything from the weather to who’s just gotten a show to a new Etsy shop. But if you have no way of sorting and filing the bits that might be important later on, it’s no different from cocktail party chitchat, gone as soon as you leave the room. Having to send someone an email may not be as convenient as other forms of communication, but it’s worth the little extra effort if it means your message gets the attention it deserves.


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2 Responses to Why Email Will Never Die

  1. CarolineA says:

    Like you, I use email and file them as a means of storing info I want to keep but don’t need right now. I am a private person and find Facebook, my mobile and IM intrusive, as it places me at someone else beck and call; as if my time is not as important as theirs. I suspect most tweets (like videos on youtube) are done by people who have too much time on their hands, or want 15 minutes of fame. If you want to tell people what you are doing and its of real value and/or interest, keep a blog, add videos if necessary, and don’t restrict yourself to 145 characters.
    If its not worth blogging about, like a trip out for a takeaway in a city your followers will never visit, then why on earth would a stranger be interested in someone tweeting or IM-ing about it? Never mind that it can be spectacularly rude, like butting in on a real life conversation, between people you don’t know.
    I am unrepentantly ante-deluvian, to the despair of my fb-ing and tweeting family, as the social networks I do belong to are interest-specific and therefore “boring”. But being part of a debate that takes place over several days and goes around the world is a modern luxury I really do enjoy, and I like having the time to read my favourite blogs and challenge my brain, without worrying about anyone distracting me with trivialities. Modern technology should enhance communication, not kill it.

  2. Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

    Wonderfully said, CarolineA. I love the part about interest-specific groups. Those are the best, aren’t they?