Email is a phenomenal technology, but it has serious problems that reduce its usefulness. We are living in an unparalleled era of information exchange where the number of email messages is relentlessly growing, and where the volume of unstructured and unmanaged information is threatening to swamp all the productivity gains brought about by the advent of personal computing in the early 1980s.(1)
Email is here to stay; indeed it is now an official part of language. (2) The notion of ‘email overload’ was identified in 1996 (3) but was first mooted 14 years earlier, in 1982, when Peter Denning, the president of the Association for Computing Machinery,(4) called the pain of working with email ‘The Receiver’s Plight’, asking: “Who will save the receivers [of email] from drowning in the rising tide of information so generated?” (5)
Nevertheless, email has now become the primary ‘electronic habitat’, (6) and there has been considerable academic investigation and research into the phenomenon.(7)
Email overload crept up on us, eventually sweeping aside our individual efforts to manage it systematically. We had no prior experience with such a killer application, so there was no foundation upon which to envisage the future. Email management techniques and policies did not exist at the outset and we were overcome by the rapid advancements in technology and the seductive benefits of speed, easy communication and a seemingly limitless information-transfer capability. Email overload was caused by a combination of easy-to-adopt yet poorly thought-through technology and a revolutionary change in our communication culture.
This Blog is all about ‘email-as-problem’ but seeks genuine new insight. As the kiddies song reflects, the wheels on the bus go round and round – well so do the tired old stories “ten tips to mastering email overload”, “email free Fridays”, “email bankruptcy” and that figment of a savvy publicist’s imagination “emailers anonymous”.
Please join me as the debate begins...
1 The Conference Board, Annual Productivity Survey, January 27, 2007. Conclusion: the search is now on in the developed world for new productivity improvements without which economic growth and corporate profits could suffer.
2 Pearsall, J. (Ed) (2001). The Concise Oxford Dictionary. Retrieved April 1, 2007 http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/email?view=uk
3 Whittaker, S. & Sidner, C. (1996). Email overload: Exploring personal information management of Email. Proceedings of the CHI 96 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. New York ACM.
5 Denning P. (1982). Electronic junk. Communications of the ACM, 25(3), March 1982
6 Ducheneaut, N., Belotti, V. (2001). Email as habitat: an exploration of embedded PIM. Interactions, 8(5), ACM Press 30-38.
7 Ducheneaut, N., Watts, L. (2005). In search of coherence: A review of Email Research. HCI, 2005, Vol 20, pp 11-48.