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Technology

E-mail Overload: Welcome Back to School 363

E-mail, arguably the most successful of all computer applications, has grown so rapidly that it' threatens to veer out-of-control for many people. Designed as a simple communications tool, it's now used for dozens of tasks, from personal archiving to community-building and marketing. E-mail is sparking, perhaps even overwhelming, the revolutionary new model of instantaneous communications. This is the first time in human history disparate people in diverse places can communicate with one another instantaneously. But are we ready? We know surprisingly little about the social and psychological impact of e-mail, beyond usage, volume and demographics. We do know few people have workable strategies for coping, a problem that hits college students and tech and office workers especially hard. Your experiences and solutions are, as always, welcome below.

There is a sense of feeling increasingly overwhelmed by the problems e-mail creates (also acute for people not in college, since the vast majority of Americans are still on dial-up systems). Employers get frustrated because workers spend so much time messaging one another with questions, problems and data sent merely because it's so easy. As we move towards an instantaneous model of communicating information, the pressure on everyone to manage information rises. Most people aren't getting much help.

It's simple to send instructions and directions via e-mail, but tougher to hold people accountable for messages delivered in ways they struggle to sort, absorb and file. It's easy enough -- and true enough -- to tell a boss or professor you didn't get the e-mail, don't remember it, or lost it in the crush. For example: "I get a ton of cover-your-ass e-mail from subordinates now," e-mailed Daniel, an account executive in Chicago. "People used to make decisions because I wasn't available, but now, why should they? My employees just e-mail me every little decision so they can't get into trouble and are rattled if I haven't answered them in five minutes. They are learning via e-mail not to think for themselves, not to be in positions where they can be held accountable. They just instantly message me. I'm personally already overwhelmed with e-mail from my superiors and customers, not to mention my wife and kids, and my fishing buddies have me on a dozen mailing lists about fishing I don't really need to be on."

Sandra Berman, a teaching assistant at an Ivy League school, says e-mail is a growing and problematic factor in her relationships with students. "I'm always getting messages minutes before papers are due telling me they won't be done, as if notifying me constitutes agreement. I get very complex questions about reports and papers phrased in questions and e-mails that are 25 words long. If you ask to meet somebody, they are amazed. When I e-mail people -- it's amazing, but kids don't set up appointments face-to-face much anymore -- they often tell me, 'oh, I didn't know about that deadline or schedule change.' And you know what? It happens to me all the time, so it could well be true. I can't really absorb the e-mail I get, and surely can't figure out how to sort and organize it, so something is getting lost."

The overload seems to be hitting offices and colleges particularly hard. The computer savvy have a fighting chance -- to some extent they can retaliate and cope with alternate accounts and IDs, and with filtering and sorting and blocking systems. But most students at most schools don't yet have the time, opportunity or skills. E-mail and IM systems are no longer optional; they're essential to registration, course work, communications and a social life.

Students complain with e-mail so ubiquitous, they spend hours e-mailing and IM-ing people who live two floors below or in the dorm next door. "I IM for a lunch date, to get pizza, to walk to class, to check on my friends and assignments," says Jane, a junior at the University of Chicago. "It sounds lazy, but it isn't, it's just easier." Jim Bagwell, a University of Michigan senior, says his friends become alarmed if he hasn't replied to their instant messages in a few minutes. "They think I'm in trouble, or having tech problems. Sometimes they get pissed off. They e-mail me and call me up to ask if I'm on or have gotten their messages. I'm answering messages as fast as I can, because I know people are waiting. I don't meet with professors anymore because they all are online now, and it's easier for them and me to talk through e-mail. I get so many e-mails they back up if I don't check them every few hours ... I'm becoming something of a slave to it. It's a grind. Over the summer, two friends and I went hiking in Canada. We couldn't believe what was waiting for us when we got back."

Bagwell said in some cases, friends were worried or offended that he hadn't replied in two weeks. He lost the chance to join some college groups because people assumed he wasn't interested, since he had taken so long to reply. "You ought to be able to go on a hike without freaking out everybody you know." There are no universally-shared notions of etiquette regarding e-mail, and, as a result, says Bagwell, he and his friends become somewhat compulsive about checking it. "Definitely, the stress level goes up when I'm not near a computer for a couple of hours. That can be hard on work and peace of mind.The consequences and expectation surrounding e-mail are deeper than people realize," he said. "I'm really think twice before going offline for two weeks again, especially when I get a real job. That makes me a POW."

As people get spammed and flamed, their inboxes clog with messages, partially- read documents, conversational threads and URL's. Important messages can get lost or overlooked -- in fact a growing number of messages are believed to be vanishing in the e-mail overload, ignored, forgotten or overlooked. Even for people with sophisticated sorting and organizing systems, managing an inbox has become increasingly complex. Unlike s-mail, there isn't the certain expectation that messages were sent or received.

"There are many levels on which e-mail affects communications," says Jay, a Stanford graduate assistant studying the social implications of E-mail Overload (he will finish his report next year, and we'll post it). "For one thing, people increasingly expect that people won't read or have the time to respond to e-mail. For another, we tend to rush our messages, since we are always afraid of falling behind. That leads to misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and just poor communicating. People format messages differently, so parts of messages are often missed or not seen at all. Others send multiple messages because they are e-mailing so impulsively they're always correcting or clarifying themselves. That's dangerous in personal relationships and business. There is now a frantic, hurried quality to e-mail communications that is getting worse by the year, as the number of people and businesses online grows."

Like Bagwell, people who use computing in their school, work or personal lives can find themselves inundated with messages if they're offline for even a few hours or days. It's not clear when conversations begin -- or when they should and do end. People who come online for the first time often express surprise at the brusque nature of many e-mail communications, since they don't yet know how cluttered their inboxes will become. E-mail has created a culture of such instant response that messagers expect instantaneous replies. Bosses expect employees to be online regularly, sometimes even in off-hours. E-mail alters the nature and content of communications. Letter-writing -- a nearly dead form of culture all by itself -- requires time to construct messages, while recipients have hours or days to consider their replies. Letter writers often put the same time and energy into writing that gamers or programmers put into their work and entertainment. Ordinary mail also makes advertising and marketing material easy to distinguish from personal communications; junk mail is easy to spot and toss. Now, spam often comes disguised as personal e-mail, with individualistic headings, an approach I consider close to fraud.

E-mail is responsible for the growth of distributed organizations, obviously, and it permits people to communicate easily and cheaply across geographical and time differences. But we know little about how people organize and manage the large amounts of information so many receive.

Look for more on this topic in an upcoming column.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

E-mail Overload: Welcome Back to School

Comments Filter:
  • Telephone? (Score:4, Funny)

    by OdinHuntr ( 109972 ) <ebourg.po-box@mcgill@ca> on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @11:18AM (#2251378)
    > This is the first time in human history
    > disparate people in diverse places can
    > communicate with one another instantaneously.

    So I guess I imagined my mother calling her Swedish uncles when I was a kid, eh?
    • by mblase ( 200735 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @11:33AM (#2251456)
      You know what's even funnier? The telephone is more immediate. With e-mail, I usually have to wait twelve to twenty-four hours minimum before I get a response to my questions.

      The Katz doth love his technology too much, methinks. He's genuinely convinced himself that there was no technology worth using before personal computers.
    • Re:Telephone? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Lacutis ( 100342 )
      I think they were probably more referring to the fact that 50 people in disparate places can all talk to each other simultaneously.

      Sure you had "Party Lines" and whatnot but they are fairly localized. This is the first time in human history where You or I can talk to our friends in 15 different countries at exactly the same time like we were sitting in the same room.

      Hang on folks, were in for quite the ride in the next 15-20 years.
      • by mosch ( 204 )
        Haven't you ever heard of a conference call?
        • Even with conference calls, like the person below me mentioned, the cost and S/N ratio of calling 50 people from different countries isn't worth the money involved.

          Not to mention the fact that by the time you got around to dialing the 50th phone number, the time involved makes it impractical at best.

          Sometimes three-way calls are unbearable, I couldn't imagine even having 5-10 people on the same line and carrying on any kind of coherent conversations.
          • I couldn't imagine even having 5-10 people on the same line and carrying on any kind of coherent conversations.

            And this is different from a 10 person e-mail chain how, exactly?
          • First of all, uou don't call 50 people to setup a conference call. Every person involved calls a number, and enters a code identifying which conference call they want to join.

            Secondly, with 5-10 people on the same line, it tends to be extremely easy to carry on the conversation, because everybody involved realizes that they should make sure anything they say is worth saying. It has a much better S/N ratio than a 10-way e-mail where everybody feels that they can say anything, because the transaction cost is thought to be low.

    • Re:Telephone? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Pepebuho ( 167300 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @12:10PM (#2251616)
      There is a big difference between Telephone and E-mail. Telephone (specially for long distance calls)had a relatively high transaction cost associated with each phone call which relegated it for special ocations or important issues. What is the first thing that comes to mind if you receive a phone call at 2 AM? E-mail on the other hand does not have that associated transaction cost. You do not see or feel the cost of sending and e-mail. Sending an e-mail becomes as natural as speaking because it is so effortless you can take it for granted. That is the difference
      • What is the first thing that comes to mind if you receive a phone call at 2 AM?
        Somebody is probably drunk, and wanting to know if I want to go to a diner with them.
        That is the difference
        No, the difference is that one is immediate, and lends itself to intricate communication, with instant feedback, and the ability to use tone of voice. Additionally with the telephone you can immediately get feedback on additional questions which may arise from the answers to your original e-mail. Also, the latency is downright negligible, whereas with e-mail communications there's a very substantial and fairly unpredictable latency involved.
      • What is the first thing that comes to mind if you receive a phone call at 2 AM?


        Booty call again?

    • Re:Telephone? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by outerbody ( 519385 )
      i send email when i'd like to get a response soon. i send an IM when i want a response sooner. the most immediate needs are dealt with on the phone.
  • I Once... (Score:2, Funny)

    by _14k4 ( 5085 )
    "I IM for a lunch date, to get pizza, to walk to class, to check on my friends and assignments,"

    I once dated a girl that did this extensivly. It was a huge annoyance, of sorts. I'd have to go to "afk" status, or just plain ignore her (which virtually guaranteed me trouble later..) when I wanted 3 minutes to myself. ::sigh::

    _14k4 (poorheart.com [poorheart.com])
    • by Nightpaw ( 18207 )
      Just say, "Girl, if you want to talk, you can come over here and do it while you're naked." Then, everybody wins.
    • Why not log out of IM?
      • Then I was ignoring her, or somewhere else. And, since she didnt know where I was if I didnt IM her my location.... :) It was just a pain. Quite funny really. College kids. Katz has a point.

        _14k4 (poorheart.com [poorheart.com])
        • Excessively needy significant others aren't just a new IM phenomenon, you know :) Just another situation where you get to tell someone to leave you the hell alone for a while.

          • by Jason Earl ( 1894 )

            Exactly, count yourself lucky that your girl just lurked online waiting for you. I once had a girlfriend that would literally camp out in front of my apartment (@#$!! indoor hallways!). I realized things were out of hand when I found myself climbing in and out the window instead of going around to the front door.

            I even tried breaking up with her, but that only made things worse. After all, she still knew where I lived, and she kept telling me that we could "work it out." In the end I had to move to another state. No, I am not kidding.

            Every time you start thinking that something is entirely new, you are wrong. People are the same as they have ever been. Technology just gives us new methods of doing the same dumb/strange things as always.

      • Because then the sane people have trouble reaching you too.

        In IM situations where I don't want to talk to people who are pestering me I just make myself invisible (Easy in ICQ). If they still persist in sending me crap they go on ignore for a while.
    • Why would you need 3 minutes to yourself when you've got a girlfriend?
  • 4000 unread emails (Score:4, Informative)

    by Invisible Agent ( 412805 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @11:23AM (#2251400)
    At the large company where I used to work, one of my friends had just gotten hired on and happened to notice that I had 4000 unread messages in my inbox. He couldn't believe his eyes. Now, he's been there over a year and he's pushing 2000 on a regular basis. From firsthand experience, I can tell you that this is a sick way to live.

    How do you get 4000 unread messages you ask? Well, you only have so much time, so you skim through your mail reading the most obvioulsy important and "saving the rest for later". Repeat for many months, and viola, you can't look at your email without feeling a sense of guilt and dread. Then, once a year or so I would hold my breath, select all and delete. Aaaah.

    But I've broken the cycle. Now I get all of my mail thanks to my Crackberry pager. I'm pretty sure that is even a sicker lifestyle, but what can you do? :/
    • the impression (Score:2, Interesting)

      by bliss ( 21836 )
      "How do you get 4000 unread messages you ask? Well, you only have so much time, so you skim through your mail reading the most obvioulsy important and "saving the rest for later". Repeat for many months, and viola, you can't look at your email without feeling a sense of guilt and dread. Then, once a year or so I would hold my breath, select all and delete. Aaaah."

      That just makes me wince I wonder how many people like this it takes until email will get a genuinely good rep as a communications medium.

      You know what I mean. If you send an email to some places/persons you usually get almost nothing back. A letter is needed. It's more official and people tend unfortunately take you more seriously.
    • by Pope ( 17780 )
      Yup it's easy. At one of the places I freelance, people email everybody in the company with things like "I'm away for the afternoon." This is in an office of under 40 people!
    • Your problem is either that you do not know how to delegate or your job sucks.

      Email only arrives in my inbox from 25 people in my organization. Everything else goes in the trash. I read about 40 of 300 messages a day and need to respond to 10 or less.

      If its important, they will call, visit or send a letter. I refuse to waste my time on other peoples bullshit.
  • by FortKnox ( 169099 )
    Writing a story about how email affects people to a bunch of nerds that have been using email since the old BBS's??

    What kind of comment am I supposed to post here?
    Email has affected me!

    Its worse than preaching to a choir, its insane. I imagine that there are good stories being rejected so I can spend time reading this story.

    And the worse part, its a multipart Katz column!!

    To quote Billy Madison:
    We are all dumber having read this.
    • I imagine that there are good stories being rejected so I can spend time reading this story.

      A. No one says you have to read every article on Slashdot. In fact if you do, consider that fact that you have no life.

      B. There are other sites on the internet. Use them to find what you consider to be "good" stories and stop complaining.

      And the worse part, its a multipart Katz column!!

      Why do so many people complain about Katz? He's the only person on Slashdot who actually contributes original content. Slashdot is often criticized for being a linking site. Well you can't please everyone. If you don't like his articles *don't read them*, but more importantly stop whining.

  • An article about email overload?

    You've got to be kidding.

    Anyone reading Slashdot that hasn't learned to manage their email by now is probably a lost cause.

    • Filtering can only go so far. I have extensive filtering in place (pushing things I know I won't read directly to the trash), yet, if I were to actually give attention to each and every mail, I'd do nothing else during the day.

      My solution - so far - has been to filter according to sender and subject, and just purge the majority of mailboxes unseen every evening. Then I clear out everything older than a week from the trash. Yes, I'll miss some email that would have been important (for some time, my sister couldn't reach me when she changed mailaddress and I kept deleting her mails without seeing them).

      Of course, this is not a tenable solution; I'll miss something of real importance sooner or later, and the fecal matter will hit the air propulsion device. Until then - or until I find a better way - I'll just continue happily deleting...

      /Janne

  • by doctor_oktagon ( 157579 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @11:26AM (#2251415)
    This comment, from one of the people quoted in the article:
    I'm really think twice before going offline for two weeks again, especially when I get a real job....
    is absolutely ludicrous! Use Out of Office reply for gawds sake.

    People have to start taking responsibility for their own actions and life ... it's not all a bed of roses. Desk telephones were just as anoying before e-mail became as widespread, and in some ways e-mail is easier to manage because you can ignore the crap. Until you pick up a ringing phone you do not (generally) know what the subject matter is, and if it has a higher priority than your current task.

    I do think however, that it would be nice in a mail client to know whether a message was:
    Sent directly to you, CC'd, or as part of a mass-mail before actually reading it. Outlook can't do it, so that's me stuffed ;-)

    Disclaimer: I know it can be set up using Rules, I just can't be bothered.

    • Why does every email client feel the need to re-invent the vacation(1) program? Holy fuck, people, it's 8 years old!

      The problem with Outlost's Out-of-Office Autoreply is that as far as we can tell, it bypasses all the Rules settings. So even if you have the Rules set up to be a poor imitation of procmail (oh look, another reinvention of the wheel -- why can't Rules do what procmail has done for years?), and your mailing list traffic is redirected to various folders, too bad. The OoO Autoreply takes precedence, and sends replies to lists traffic. Really really annoying.

      After about a week of messing with Rules, OoO, and general Outlook stupidity, we moved everything to a Unix box. Procmail is far smarter than anything that can possibly run on Outlook right now, and mutt as a mail client will do all the things you asked for in your post.

      End of rant. :-)

    • Sent directly to you, CC'd, or as part of a mass-mail before actually reading it. Outlook can't do it, so that's me stuffed ;-)

      Disclaimer: I know it can be set up using Rules, I just can't be bothered.

      See Also: "Customize View: Automatic Formatting." All of my mail is color coded to indicate which condition (on To:, CC:, etc.) has occurred.

      People have to start taking responsibility for their own actions..

      Too.. much... irony...

  • Mailing Lists (Score:4, Insightful)

    by David Greene ( 463 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @11:27AM (#2251425)
    As I see it, mailing lists are a big problem. They are trying to do something that is handled much better elsewhere: USENET. It makes much more sense to use something designed for mass distribution and discussion.

    Granted, USENET has its share of problems. It's hard to create groups/run a server and the S/N ration can get very low. Perhaps a slightly tweaked version is needed.

    Moderation helps but places a large burden on the moderator. Mailing lists (at least the ones I subscribe to) don't seem to have a SPAM problem nearly as large as on USENET. Perhaps because it's easy to set up a mailing list that requires registration to post. Why doesn't USENET have anything like that?

    It's a complete waste of resources to have everyone in a domain store separate copies of discussion messages when one USENET archive could be available to all.

    What's the trick? Why do most software projects (for example) use mailing lists rather than USENET? How can we take back USENET?

    • Spam is not the biggest problem on USENET -- it's people that have been there forever and think they deserve the right to rough up the newbies.

      All the time spent posting "read the FAQ" and "RTFM" messages could better be spent answering the freakin' questions! However, reading a newbie roast tends to break up that "case of the Muhn-days" [officespace].

      • Re:Mailing Lists (Score:2, Insightful)

        by David Greene ( 463 )
        Spam is not the biggest problem on USENET -- it's people that have been there forever and think they deserve the right to rough up the newbies.

        That is very true. The same thing happens on certain mailing lists. This has more to do with the people involved than the medium, though the medium does tend to bring out the worst in people. It's easy to dispense with civility when you don't have to address someone face-to-face.

      • whiners.

        here's a post to alt.cyberpunk that I flamed about four years ago:

        Come on guys you can at least explain why it is dumb. Help the Newbie. I mean if there were 1000 elites in the world and they taught a newbie all they knew all the trick and every thing in a year, then after five years we would have 32,000!!!! ELITES. Please consider.

        looking back, I now think my flame was somewhat lame. perhaps if I'd only been better, alt.cyberpunk would still be readable.

        nope. AOLers and other vermin are the whole problem.

    • Why do most software projects (for example) use mailing lists rather than USENET? How can we take back USENET?

      Easy. It's too damn hard to set up a well-propagated newsgroup:

      1. Big8 and national hierarchies: Complex voting process

      2. alt.*: Get harrassed in alt.config and/or convince every single news admin around the world to carry your group

      3. free.*: Not well-propagated

      4. Set up your own newsserver: Lots of work involved to keep it running smoothly.

      It should tell you something when the NNTP task force itself is running a mailing list instead of a newsgroup ...

      -Martin
      • > > Why do most software projects (for example) use mailing lists rather than USENET? How can we take back USENET?
        >
        > Easy. It's too damn hard to set up a well-propagated newsgroup:

        Who said it had to be propagated anywhere outside the company?

        Just run an NNTP server on a server somewhere in your company, firewall all traffic from the outside world, and voila - groupware for free.

        (For bonus points, the server slurps down selected comp.* groups from your ISP and propagates posts back out, after dropping anything xposted to the company's internal newsgroup.)

    • Well there are several problems with usenet.

      1) Hard to create a new newsgroup

      2) No way to keep people off of a group. The newsgroup soc.culture.jewish has been useless for years. It seems every anti-semite and evangalist on the internet feals the need to post his or her drek there. I am on a bunch of mailing lists which are moderated, and as such have much more useful converstation. It is nice to be able to say to someone we don't care if you belive in "X" its not wanted here.

      3) Propigation time. It often takes several days for usenet messages to get from here to there and this makes a conversation much harder.
    • Listservs are way better than Usenet for a number of purposes.

      1. When it really matters that members get each and every message. Usenet loses messages, and sometimes people are offline for a bit. Vacations, etc.
      2. Increased authentication. The nature of Usenet as a distributed network, one which predates the commercial Internet, is why it's so prone to spammers. If you want to check out the alternative, it's Usenet2. Basically, the problem is that back in the days before the rise of .com, most Usenet posters were from .edus and they would have their account yanked if they did anything Naughty. It was in this environment that the authentication techniques (IP address is fine, thank you very much :) arose.
      3. Lowered sysadmin resources. All you need to run a listserv is a cheapo little *nix box with a 365/24 connection. Usenet servers need a tad more, plus you have to persuade somebody to give you a feed.
    • If I want to set up a private (as in, not world-readable) mailing list for 5 people, how does it make sense to propogate both the messages and other group information around the world and fit it into an organised heirarchy?

      For less than global distribution, mailing lists are a much better solution. The only downside is shitty mail clients that don't thread mail messages properly (or include the relevant information so that others can do so easily).
  • email (Score:2, Insightful)

    Email has it's downside as well. Ever seen Demolition Man? Well we're heading in that direction quickly. In the next ten years we're going to become more and more dependant on computers for everyday tasks and simple communication. People are so focused on convenience and instant gratification that we're forgetting the art of conversation, and basic social skills. Mark my word, one day, during our lifetimes, people will spend their entire lives staring at a monitor, only leaving to fulfill their most basic bodily needs such as eating and sleeping. Even today, we have people that do all their work, shopping, and dating on-line. These people are simply not prepared to lead a meaningful life, and use their computer as a way to escape social situations that they never learned to properly cope with.

    Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the convenience that email offers, but I think we should limit it's use so that our "digital addiction" does not progress to unhealthy levels. We need to learn how to balance our computer usage with genuine person-to-person communication, lest we become totally dependant on computers.

    Also, Katz spelled email wrong. There is no hyphen in email.

    • Re:email (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fleener ( 140714 )
      These people are simply not prepared to lead a meaningful life, and use their computer as a way to escape social situations that they never learned to properly cope with.

      Ahh, the elitism begins. You believe your methods of living and communicating are superior to others. Who are you to determine what constitutes a meaningful life for other people?

      A meaingingful life can be had burying your head in books at the library, boarding your plane as a kamikaze pilot (a deeply religious experience), traveling the world in your yacht with a babe on each shoulder, or yes, even sitting in front of a computer.
    • These people are simply not prepared to lead a meaningful life, and use their computer as a way to escape social situations that they never learned to properly cope with.


      If they have an escape, then whose place is it to say that the aren't "properly" coping with the situations? They're coping in a manner that they find acceptable, therefore, their method should be acceptable to everyone else. Only the person living a life should be allowed to determine if their method of living is acceptable (unless it infringes upon someone else's method of living). I believe that's the whole "pursuit of happiness" thing that some Americans wrote about a long time ago, as well as several other cultures...


      Eh, trolling is a fun way to live too, I guess. :)

    • Email has it's downside as well.

      Yes. For example, it promotes two things:

      1. Poor grammar, for example using "it's" instead of "its."
      2. Incorrect nitpicking, for example suggesting that email has a standardized spelling.

      It's surprising to find both features exhibited in one post.

      Ever seen Demolition Man? Well we're heading in that direction quickly.

      Woo-hoo! Time to whip out those shells. :)

  • "his friends become alarmed if he hasn't replied to their instant messages in a few minutes"

    Seriously folks, if your friends get freaked out because you're not online, then you need to find some new friends. I think Katz is just isolating the extreme cases here and making it sound like an epidemic (typical on the nightly news.) If you can't figure out how to put yourself into "offline" or "away" mode to avoid the IM's, then you deserve what you get.

  • by roozbeh ( 247046 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @11:29AM (#2251432) Homepage

    ...is not reading email anymore. Read it at Knuth versus Email [stanford.edu].

    'I don't even have an e-mail address. I have reached an age where my main purpose is not to receive messages.'
    --- Umberto Eco, quoted in the New Yorker

    • That's right, it is still possible to email Donald Knuth. With my new E2P (electronic-to-postal) communications protocol, your message will automatically be converted from email to printed postal mail and forwarded (physically!) to Prof. Knuth. This allows everyone the best of both worlds: you get the convenience of instant electronic communications, and Dr. Knuth will get it in a "paper" format consistent with his chosen inbox.

      So fire away those emails to Donald Knuth. For now, you may send them directly to me [mailto] for processing in my E2P environment. For faster processing (and fewer "what the fsck are you talking about" replies), be sure to use the subject "Dear Dr. Knuth" in your messages.

      I might even submit this to W3C as a new communications protocol if it really takes off. HOWEVER, please note that, unlike other internet protocols, there is a *per-transaction fee* associated with E2P. Along with the email note, please send USD 0.00007 per byte (35 cents per page) to cover processing costs. Payment may be sent via PayPal or any other internet micropayment agent of your choice.

      Thanks for choosing E2P!
  • I guess I don't see the same problems as these people. I can and do live entirely without IM, so I know that's possible. As far as email goes, it sounds like people are making assumptions about the synchronicity of communication that aren't warranted. If you reply to people too quickly, then of course they assume that you will always do so. What works for me is to check fairly frequently, but put off most replies until two or three central times a day in batch mode. That way, you get the important information quickly, but without creating the expectation that you'll act immediately on everything you're sent.

    I knew people in school who checked their email every hour or so; I found it amazing that they would do so. Then again, I've never been quite the social butterfly. Maybe that's why I have a hard time sympathizing with those who are :)

  • by Christianfreak ( 100697 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @11:31AM (#2251441) Homepage Journal
    I don't really understand what this article is about. Yes people use email, its quite useful. We have some examples of people on University campuses who don't use it wisely ... big deal.

    The example of the proffesor who gets emails just before papers are due saying they aren't going to be done: So what? Can this professor not stand up in front of her class and tell her students that practice is not acceptable and will be met with a failing grade?

    Blaming email for the above problems is like blaming knives and guns for killing people rather than the people who kill people. Blame this on human laziness/impatience/ignorance/stupidity but not on email. Email is a tool.

    As far as people not being ready for instantanious communication... well we've been doing some form of it since smoke signals were invented, or for that matter language. I really don't see what distance has to do with it and I'm not going to give up all form of communication anytime soon.
    • I agree totally that email is just a tool. Those of us who know what the hell we're doing can cope. The rest are on their own. I use Cyrus IMAP so I can get my mail anywhere, and server-side filtering to divide up my mail into appropriate bins. The important bins get read first. Then come mailing list traffic, system reports and anything else when I have time.

      As for the immediacy issue-- I never expected email to be instantaneous-- that's what IM/ICQ are for. If you build up an expectation that a 'store-and-forward' mechanism like email will be instantaneous, then you're deluded and I refuse to feel sorry for you.

      If these professors and coporate managers are frustrated at the misuse/misunderstanding of email, have they talked to their students or subordinates and clearly stated what the rules are for email communication? If you don't tell people where the boundaries are, how can you be upset if they exceed them? Tell them that simply sending an email is not sufficient notice for missing a deadline. Tell them that you do not check your mail every 2 minutes and make a more reasonable commitment as to when you will answer. It's new technology, but it's still human-to-human communication, and the etiquette that goes along with that hasn't changed.

      Above all, *quit bitching*!! ;^)
  • Email realtime (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mwillems ( 266506 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @11:32AM (#2251447) Homepage
    Indeed. As CTO of a company that employs about 100 people I clearly see a division between:

    a) the "old guys". They consider email a mail equivalent: you check it once a day and ask your secretary to reply. They see 'too much mail' as 'way too much noise'. These are CFO-types and older sales manager types.

    b) The "e-kids". They are younger (typically 35) and consider email a bonus, and see it as akin to the telephone. I.e. it has become a real-time mechanism. They have developed mechanisms to handle the deluge, such as the following (which I am trying to get everyone to buy into)

    - Filter into separate directories upon receipt
    - Check each minute instead of once an hour (or worse)
    - Show the TO line in the list view of received emails
    - Live with the fact that sometimes you cannot answer each one immediately, or ever
    - Use various email addresses to separate business from private
    - Use email aliases and groups were they benefit the project
    - concentrate on the half that needs doing quickly: spend 10-20% of your time on that. Spend remaining 80-90% of your time on strategy. Typically, half or more of the emails need not be answered at all.
    - Keep received and sent email for three months, no longer (for legal reasons too btw).
    - Use ASCII, not HTML

    I send a weekly newsletter that always has a few tips, and often sit down with older or less sophisticated managers individually to teach them some of the tricks. That helps a lot, I find.

    Michael
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @11:32AM (#2251449) Homepage
    in the corperate world it's worse...

    3-20 meg Power point prenentations, Mpeg video files, 3-4 meg spreadsheets, and 5-10 meg doc files..... for what? conveying information? noo, the info is only 10% of the file size, the rest is bloat and eye-candy. Your power point presentation doesnt need a WAV of turbo-lover to be effective, your spreadsheet don't need a 3 meg bmp in the background as a watermark to make it work, and your letter didn't need a 3 meg Photo of your head resized to 1X3 inches on your letterhead.

    Everyone whines about mp3's and warez are soaking up email bandwidth, it's the lusers and sales people jamming it up with useless drivel disguized as important communication... the file attachment was the #1 worst thing to have ever added to email.
    • This is a policy failure at a CTO level. It indicates that no adequate policy exists. If that is the case, then it follows that the company is likely to be hurt by any lawsuit that suppenaes records, as well as opening up the company to suits by empoyees. There is no excuse at all for ever including a 20mb PowerPoint presentation in email, unless it is ultra secret and no one else should see it. Even then, why would it be in that form. Yes, I understand that there are a few high-level circumstances where such info must be kept absolutely secure, but to send it through email without encrytion negates that premise. Within a company, assuming that they have a resonable secured network, there is no need to send this things all over -- in fact it is an offense to good business practice. Almost all modern mail clients can handle URLs effectively. Most modern business tools can handle multiple simultaneous edits of content. The concept is called Groupware. Adobe claims to invented it, but it is simply a combination of the USENET, FTP, and web technologies. Regardless of platform combinations, there are tech solutions available. The key is documentation, education, and a little bit of technology, in that order. In your quest for senior management to adopt and enforce reasonable standards, which might get you a good promotion or raise, here are a few points to help. If the network load on the mail servers was reduced, what would be the cost savings? Fewer employees, less maintainance, higher uptime? If all staff involved in a project could simultaneously edit a presentation, document, graphic, etc., and then they could be discussed as a group, how much time would be saved? How many manhours? How much diskspace/server time? If each employee was able to see the proposed changes by the others, how much duplication of effort could be eliminated? Sending out a document (in any form) via email can only tell you who recieved it. A web server can tell you not only who viewed the document, but which pages they viewed. Think about it. "I disagree with your whole presentation." "Umm, but according to the logs, you never looked past the opening page, Mr. Ihateyou, would you like to see the rest? I can do it now, but I assumed that we all had seen it." It can also tell you how long the viewer spent on each page, although this is subject to many other factors. It can also tell who dialed in from home to read the pages again. If I were a manager, and thankfully I no longer am, this would be one factor that I would care about. Who cared about it enough to give it a second round? Again, I say: documentation, education, and a little technology. The order is significant. First the policy is defined, in writing and distributed to all employees. Then we teach them to use the tools they have been ignoring. Then we provide the bridge. Pretty simple, eh? Like I said before, do you want a big raise or promotion? This is a great opportunity for you. One caveat is to know all of the solutions for what you propose before you propose them. The best way to do this is to get "unofficial" outside quotes, on the nature of "what if", from at least 3 sources before you take on the task. You can find references to much of that info here. "What if we used Apache and Php to set up group-password protected areas to handle group documents?" What would the cost be? Or do we even have such functionality available now, in our existing network stucture? Next is to discover the impact on the decision makers. Does your CEO actually handle his own mail or does his admin handle it for him. This is an important point. Does your CTO (or vp technology, or CIO, or director of Technical Operations) handle their own email or do they pawn it off? I once had a CEO who would have his secretary read all of his email and fax him copies of the most important (in her estimation) ones to him wherever he was. To all others, she would simply reply that he was too busy to be bothered by their email. She did this for two years with the CEO's wife and mistress, before she got caught and fired. :-) Anyone, unless they have an MSCE could quickly configure your network for such information sharing. My intent is not to demean those that have an MSCE certificate, but instead to imply that such changes require experience and such servers are better not left to NT. Oh geeze, I'm gonna get basted alive by the NT folks, so let me amplify. In my humble opinion, NT is now able to compete with certain variants on the front end. I respect the work of David Crocker in creating this platform, as he did so many other places. I respected his work in creating VMS, although I hated it from the first day I saw it. NT2000 is far worse than VMS in that it, oh never mind.... Regardless of the platform that your business has adopted, you can make a difference. You can stop the bloat, at least within your company. I wish you luck. Contact me if you need some advice.
  • You know, for a while I thought the posters who slammed Katz were cranky.
    This changed my mind.
    Don't bogart it all, Jon... it must be some good stuff...
  • So email a copy of this article to all your friends.
  • Problems? (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by Luke ( 7869 )
    Katz, a lot of people have to worry about food and shelter.

    Get things in perspecive, you whiner.
  • Let go (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dark Paladin ( 116525 ) <jhummel@johnhumme l . n et> on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @11:41AM (#2251491) Homepage
    Probably the most important thing I've realized with the "advances" - instant messaging, phone mail, email, relay - is the ability to just say no.

    Yes, it sounds trite. But next time the phone rings (cell or otherwise) during your personal time - don't answer it. I make it a point not to answer my cell phone while I'm at lunch, or in the restroom. If it's really important, they'll leave a message or call back.

    It's something that actually takes some effort, because all of these devices were formed to say "Notice me! Pay attention to me!" But there is a time and a place for all things (Moderation in Everything is almost becoming my mantra).

    If people can not handle this - then perhaps they need to learn to let go too.

    Of course, I could be wrong.
    • I agree with this. Not answering the phone is one of the best things you can do. I'm not so good with email (those damn debian lists) but not picking up the phone is great.

      What's really amazing to me is that people will pick up the phone no matter what. Hop out of the shower to get it. Run out of the bathroom frantically. Stop having sex to talk to whoever is calling. Strange.
  • It's being overused to the point that it's being used as a substitute for face to face and voice communication.

    I've seen it used in situations where people are too afraid to deliver bad news or get in a possibly heated confrontation that they just fire an email off without thinking. One example is the .com layoffs. In stead of a director/manager standing in front of you having to answer tough questions, they just de-activate your security badge, throw your stuff out the window and escort you to your car.

    E-mail is great for factual information but is very poor at conveying feelings or the tone of the person.

    So now we have people sending out BCE (SPAM) that the customers end up paying for, Passive people using it as a substitute for face to face conversation, and enormous amounts of useless information (read CC: & FW).

    Of course there are always exceptions to the rule.
  • by Zachary Kessin ( 1372 ) <zkessin@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @11:46AM (#2251516) Homepage Journal
    I have to say that one of the nicest things for me is that I observe the Jewish Sabbath, and from Friday Sundown to Saturday Sundown I don't touch my computer or phone or TV. I totaly forget my email. I don't worry about my bills or anything else. There is nothing so important in my email that it can't wait until sunday.

    Thankfuly the biggest list I'm on is mostly of people who observe the Sabbath, so it goes to about 0 for that day anyhow.

    But try it sometime, take a day off from the modern world, its nice. And it gives you a nice chance to have a conversation face to face.
    • We stopped answering our phone about 6 months ago. The only time we ever get it any more is when we know that there's someone we want to talk to about to call us. We've thought about getting caller ID. We can't see running over to the phone to see who's calling every time it rings. We've told our friends and relatives - they just talk to the answering machine until we pick up. Or they leave a message and we call back. Many people are in the habit of jumping to answer the phone. It can be a hard habit to break.

      Email is only ever urgent at work. At home, I answer it when I get around to it. It's really just a way of thinking about things. If it's important to you, spend time on it. If it's not, don't. I'm nearing 40. I spend time with my son and wife. That's the important stuff for me.

      Somebody recently wrote about the 10,000 hour rule - you have to do something for that long before you really become good at it. I think I've reached it for email. My filters take almost everything out of the inbox. If it's in the inbox, it's unusual. But I almost never deal with the same piece of email twice. If it has important stuff in it, it gets put in the 'Important Stuff' folder. If it's something for reference (password changing procedure or something) it gets put in the 'Reference' folder. Friends get their own folder. The 'Out of office' stuff gets looked at and immediately deleted. Then, if I need to find out if someone's in today, I can go to my deleted items folder and search for their name. I clear it out at the end of every week. You just have to figure out what you want out of your email and make it do that. 3 rules:

      Use your filters

      Make and use folders

      Read each email only once

      That's it.

      • It is important to figure out what is important and what is not. And if you have a family the family is more important than the job. Unless lives are at risk, which for some jobs is true, you have to be willing to tell them that your time is yours. On Shabbos my cell phone is turned off. There is nothing in the office so important that they will need to get me on Shabbos. Nothing.

        Computer people have somehow been suckered into thinking that working 60 hrs and 7 days a week is normal and healthy and it isn't. Take a day off spend it with your family and friends.
    • Saturday, Donny, is Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. That means I don't work, I don't drive a car, I don't fucking ride in a car, I don't handle money, I don't turn on the oven, and I sure as shit DON'T FUCKING ROLL!
  • What the.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jburroug ( 45317 ) <slashdotNO@SPAMacerbic.org> on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @11:47AM (#2251521) Homepage Journal
    hell? I don't get it, am I the only one here who doesn't have problems managing their email? I maintain two seperate accounts, one at work and one at home. My employer doesn't have my home email address, and the work account never gets used for anything personal, or even checked outside of 8-5 Mon-Fri. On both accounts I use procmail + pine to keep everything sorted and undercontrol. Lists get pre-sorted into their folders by procmail, and most spam gets caught by Postfix via RBL's (at home at least where I run the server, my employer is currently listed as an open-relay on orbz but that's a different story...) and what little spam that does get through is pretty obvisous and get sent to spamcop right quick. With all the filters in place only direct messages to me hit my inbox, and email stays at a managable level, lists get read only when I have the time to spare.

    Now I have no such filters on my snailmail so things get all muddled and tend to pile up. I have s huge stack of magazines, mixed with bills (thank $DIETY that I pay everything but rent electronically!), paper spam and the odd once a month actual letter. I get credit card offers disguised as bills or personal letters or checks, I get magazine offers disguised as all sorts of prizes and contests, some require more than a second glance to sort from the legit email. And for some reason my postman refuses to honor the procmial recipe I taped to the inside of my mailbox ;-> I'd love to have a different box for magazines, for bills, for personal mail and a spam filter. Yes I know I can write to the bastards at the direct marketing assoc and get off their mailing lists but that's far more effort than blocking 'net spam is.

    For me the S/N ratio is far worse for snailmail than it is for email because I have less control and less options to automate the sorting process. Plus replying costs money, and takes far more effort than hitting ctrl-x in Pine. Now I realize I have it lucky being a geek, I have finer grained control that most "normal" people do, but it doesn't take much effort for even a normal college student type of open up a couple of different free accounts to help sort things, and any of the free POP3 clients allow you to auto-sort mail with almost the same level of control you get with procmail, it just requires you to sit down for an hour or two and do it once, and save yourself hundreds of hours down the road in wasted time.

    • I'd love to have a different box for magazines, for bills, for personal mail and a spam filter. Yes I know I can write to the bastards at the direct marketing assoc and get off their mailing lists but that's far more effort than blocking 'net spam is.

      Well, you might not be able to get full procmail convenience of action, but you can go to some lengths to get clearer labeling of spam in meatspace.


      Sign up all your magazine subscriptions in the names of your pets! Ditto for phone service!


      Since I did this, I can quickly sort my snail inbox. It helps that my friendly post office has a countertop for sorting and a very large trash can next to it that can be used to place unwanted mail. Typically I leave with about 8% of the incoming box.


      My life would be perfect on this front, except for the annoying habit my wife has of buying things from catalogs. Kinda like the Reply option at the bottom of UBE that serves as Verfication. So far all my entreaties to here "You'll only encourage them!" are to no avail. You'd think the dog audience she gets at dinner time would have taught her a lesson about that.

    • Hey,

      for snailmail... Plus replying costs money, and takes far more effort

      You can reply to postal spam quickly, easily and at no cost with the help of one of these [nic-inc.com]. Most postal spammers will delist you too.

      Well, assuming the post office doesn't pick up on the stamp and cancel all your mail...

      Michael
  • by Lxy ( 80823 )
    When I first started reading /., I wondered why whenever JonKatz posted the only things that got modded up were well-written flames against him and not the article.

    Well, now I see why. Jon, your article is interesting but you're writing to the wrong crowd. I know how to use e-mail as a tool, the way it was intended. What you're talking about is more suited for the non-geek masses who don't. Take for example that teacher's e-mail issues. Her problem is not so much that students are turning to e-mail but that she's not understanding how to manage it. E-mail doesn't change anything in this instance. Before e-mail I'm sure she got phone calls telling her the same thing.

    I personally see e-mail as more managable than phone calls. I can file things away and archive the important stuff for as long as I need it. Today's PIMs are an awesome tool. Think about this: a school district. The students are using Evolution to manage their calendar and e-mail. Imagine the power a teacher has, being able to post assignment dates and so forth on their calendars. No excuses, the PIM doesn't lie. Every student can pull up their assignments for the next few days, no excuses.

    In short, e-mail is a tool. Learn to use it.
  • Adams' Rule of the unexpected
    (From 'The Dilbert Future')

    For every good trend, and unexpected bad trend occurs to neutralize it. For example:

    Good Trends:

    Computers allow us to work 200 percent faster

    Women gain more political influence

    Pop Music continues to get better

    Unexpected Bad Trends:

    Computers generate 300 percent more work

    Women are as dumb as men

    I get old

    Nothing too profound here, but it applies well to this situation. Email, Word Processing, IDEs, Cell Phones, and all sorts of unbridled access to information and communication were invented to help us gain more control, but often times they serve equally to bring more chaos into our lives, either through increased expectations or simply complication. Don't get me wrong, I love new technology as much as any other ./er, but it does irk me sometimes that the new advance in studio recording technology I just bought will make the standard of excellence that much higher. Maybe I might become a member of the pen and pencil club just yet. Ha.

  • by shic ( 309152 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @11:50AM (#2251537)
    All we all need is Microsoft to introduce a new email variant where the sending party is charged for each email sent, hence diminishing the wish of users to impose unnecessary noise.
  • by Shoeboy ( 16224 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @11:50AM (#2251540) Homepage
    I to was once at a loss when it came to handling email. I didn't know what to do with the tool.

    Since then I have discovered that email is a wonderful tool for getting in trouble while drunk. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of ways to get in trouble operating a computer while drunk. I currently have a Compaq Proliant 6500 sitting in my bedroom due to a drunken visit to ebay. But email is much more effective. In my time, I've managed to let a heavily armed coworker [muppetlabs.com] know that I wished to knot and couple like frogs in a cistern. This, of course got me fired. I also managed to challenge ESR to a duel and notify our beloved Malda [cmdrtaco.net] that his girlfriend is a beast.

    After enough of these episodes, I've come to realize that this is the real purpose of email. To let you say those things you only say while drunk to anyone at any time.

    Truly a marvelous invention Mr. Katz, I wonder that you did not touch on this aspect.

    Your friend,
    --Shoeboy
  • When have human beings *ever* been 'ready' for a revolution in the way they do things? Were people 'ready' for the telephone? The radio? The television? The automobile?

    Nope. All these things caused upheavals and grumblings when they appeared on the scene. Hell, we're still figuring out what to do with television after 50 years!

    The difference is, we're a bit more self-conscious, these days. We study ourselves, not just in the past but in the present and, when possible, future tenses. We fool ourselves into believing that we *can* be in control, and therefore it follows that we *should* be in control.

    But we never *have* been in control. Innovations happen to us, and then we figure out what it means afterward.

    Mikey,
    E-mail Junkie.
  • Just to let you know that I wil be out of the office until 1pm MST. Your email is important to me and I will respond as soon as I can.
  • just don't answer the email.

    I have a list of friends that I send mail to on occassion, some more than others. I know which ones are likely to respond in 5 minutes and which ones I may wait a couple days for.

    When you answer your email immediately and don't filter or take your time, your correspondents will pick up on it. If they get the feeling that you only check only once every day or so, they won't expect an immediate response. If you don't want the stress, don't introduce it in the first place.

    (This strategy also worked well in school. High test scores lead to high expectations. Mediocre scores lead to a normal life. :)
  • Drivel (Score:4, Interesting)

    by andy@petdance.com ( 114827 ) <andy@petdance.com> on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @11:57AM (#2251572) Homepage
    We know surprisingly little about the social and psychological impact of e-mail, beyond usage, volume and demographics.

    Since when does "usage, volume and demographics" fall under "social and psychological impact"?

    And how is it "surprisingly little"? Compared to what? How much we know about the psychological impact of postal letters?

    Why does Katz always sound like he's trying for a Unit 5 Investigation during sweeps week?

  • Re: JonKatz (Score:5, Funny)

    by slcdb ( 317433 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @12:03PM (#2251595) Homepage
    This is the first time in human history disparate people in diverse places can communicate with one another instantaneously.


    JonKatz's Secretary: Mr. Katz you have a telephone call on line one.

    JonKatz: Who is it?

    JonKatz's Secretary: It's a Mr. Alexander Graham Bell ... he sounds a little upset.

    JonKatz: Well what does he want?

    JonKatz's Secretary: I dunno... he seems a little crazy... something about rolling over in a grave...
  • by AdamBa ( 64128 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @12:13PM (#2251625) Homepage
    One thing that I don't think a lot of people realize is how long composing a *good* email can take -- a lot longer than talking on the phone. If you call someone and explain something, they will indicate what parts they understand and what you need to explain more. So it winds up being efficient. Composing a good email is like doing a little presentation, you need to check it over and over to make sure you cover every possible angle. Then you will want to check the spelling, make sure your argument is well stated, and so on, because you only get one chance to get it right (of course, once you get it right, the mail can be forwarded around without the "Telephone" effect, the gradual entropization of ear-to-mouth communication).

    The same applies to Slashdot posts also!

    - adam

    P.S. Wait a minute, that was a Jon Katz article that was topical, insightful, well-argued...what is going on here?!?!?

  • by PapaZit ( 33585 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2001 @12:24PM (#2251657)
    Personally, I have two primary email addresses: one for work, and one for personal stuff.

    It amazes me that a lot of office workers don't consider this option. It's like only having a work-provided telephone, or a single mailing address where the letter from your aunt is mixed in with the latest HR newsletter.

    When I leave the office on Friday, my work email stays there. There are escalation procedures if they need to contact me in a true emergency, but I don't respond to the minor problems. When I return to work, I check my email 2-3 times a day. If you respond to the inbox bell with pablovian conditioning, you won't get anything done. I read email, decide on the most important thing to do next, then do it. I don't check email until it's done or I'm at a good stopping point. Yes, there are the panicky nitwits who call if I don't respond in 5 minutes. It only takes a few rounds of "Is this really so important that it can't wait an hour?" followed by "I just read the message, and it CAN wait an hour. Click." before they get the point.

    I treat personal email the same way. My friends know my phone number, and they know that I might not check or respond to email immediately. It confuses some of them, but they cope. They understand that I have two addresses, and if they send me something at 10:00am, I'm not going to read it until 6:00pm or whenever I'm not at work any more.

    You just need to learn to break the cycle. I spend all day on the computer. I used to be a slave to my email. It was burning me out, so I stopped. The transition will piss a few people off, but in the end, you'll be happier and more productive if you don't check your email every few minutes.

    • I have two addresses for that reason and several you haven't named:

      1) My family and friends don't have to learn a new address when I change jobs.

      2) My office email system (Lotus Notes) has enhancements that make it excellent for our needs at work, but suck ass for personal use; whereas my home email system (mutt on Linux, with procmail thrown in) is perfect for my home needs, but would suck for my office (where we use a lot of Notes databases).

      3) It is illegal for my company to snoop my home email in any way, even if I'm accessing it from the office. It is in fact a felony, since 1986's Electronic Communications Privacy Act. None of that applies to the company email system, however; it's perfectly legal for them to snoop that.

      So, I have to stay in the company email system from 8 to 5, but after that I check my personal email at my leisure, and it NEVER has anything company-related in it. Work stays at work, where it belongs, and personal email doesn't detract from family time.
  • Here's how I handle email. Keep your inbox empty. When you come to your email you probably have some messages in your inbox. Decide if you need to read something. If not, delete it (spam, stupid forwards). After you read it, decide what you want to do about it. If you need to take some action on it, and it will take less than 2 minutes, do it now. Some messages the only action was to read and enjoy or benefit from the information, but now you can delete it. Other quick actions are to mark appointments on a calendar, put something on your project list, or otherwise capture the relevant information. Other things that need to be done, but must be done in some other context (location or time). Move messages that you want to act on into an "@action" folder. (The @ puts it at the top of the list of mail folders usually.) Review this folder regularly. You can move messages to reference folders, but prefer deletion over storage. Also, get off as many mailing lists as you can.

    Credits: Ideas mostly taken from here [davidco.com].

  • to Email slavery.

    1. Treat your email address with the same respect you would give your phone number - only give it out when necessary.

    2. Send "remove" replies to spam. It only takes a few seconds and it actually works enough of the time to be worth the few seconds.

    3. Check your email only a couple times a day, and let people know that's what you do when you give them your email. Of course, there will be times when something urgent is happening and you will have to break this rule, but most people won't know when that's happening and won't depend on it.

    4. For urgent items, have important people use other means to contact you that don't keep you tied to a computer, such as phone, cell phone, pager, ham radio, smoke signals, etc. Less important people can wait for their replies. When I was in college 25 years ago, we had neither email nor cell phones, but somehow urgent things got taken care of.
  • Use opt-in email. Set up procmail filter rules to your main mailbox where you only put people whose email you consider worthwhile. Dump the unknowns in a low priority mailbox (or /dev/null, or autorespond). Mailing lists as usual in their own boxes.
  • Michael Dertouzos, Chair of MIT's Computer Science Department and columnist for The MIT Technology Review [techreview.com] said it better in an article titled The People's Computer: E-mail: Freedom or Jail? [technologyreview.com].

    He is more concise and he offers some simple rules that would help stem the tide if everyone abided by them.

    The meat of his point is summed up in the following paragraph:

    Just because we have become electronically interconnected, we have not acquired the automatic right to send a message to anyone we wish, nor the automatic obligation to respond to every message we receive.

    Here, here!

  • This is the first time in human history disparate people in diverse places can communicate with one another instantaneously.

    Say what? Let's see, I started college 17 years ago. Even before this newfangled "Internet" thing I had access to BITNET, which was a world-wide network of university computers. Guess what? That gave me email, file transfer, and chat (in the form of "relay", the precursor to IRC).

    This year, the daughter of one of my college chums is a freshman. That means we've had an entire generation to cope with world-wide instantaneous communication via the computer nets. I have a hard time believing this is anything new.

    And as for college kids not coping well... In my day we also had kids "not cope well" with being on their own and not having a mommy to make them do their homework. Hacky-sack, sports, drinking, fraternities, and just plain goofing-off provided plenty of opportunity to flunk out.

  • ...but no more. I used to post angry replies when people flamed Katz, thinking this was a damn cheeky way to treat a site admin. No more. This article is so - what's the word - sensationalized, there we go, sensationalized. Katz is trying, consciously or not, to stir up problems where most people have none. It's absurd and irresponsible. I will now be blocking all articles by Jon Katz. Join me, and maybe he'll go away.
  • It's our fault. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by evilninja ( 261516 )
    It seems to me that when things get out of control, technologicall illiterate people are easily overwhelmed and often begin to complain - without considering any recourse they could take to eliminate their problems. Chastize your employees for sending meaningless e-mails, and be forgiving if they took the slightly-less-optimal path when faced with a tough decision in a pinch. That could work wonders for halting the thousand "cover-your-ass" e-mails each day from your subordinates.
    I work at a fairly large (2,000+ employees on-site) company, and I don't get much unsolicited e-mail from my co-workers. Admittedly, I get more company newsletters that I'd like to, but any "fun mail" that I get is generally by choice. If I take part in the "Did you see that hilarious video about...?" conversations, I get the video in my inbox. I'm not going to offend anyone if I decline their offer to send it to me, either.

    I'm also a college student in Computer Engineering, and I feel that I have successfully (and rather easily) avoided "E-Mail Overload." Message filters are a built-in (and vital) component of any decent mail program. Mass school mail goes in a folder that I read if I have time. Mailing list mail goes in a seperate (and usually categorized) folder. You get the point.
    Most teachers I've dealt with (yes, outside the engineering school, too) seem to have their communication systems under control as well. Rules are rules, and e-mail doesn't change the rules. None of my classmates or colleagues would assume they have a homework extension because they simply e-mailed the professor the day the homework was due. We know it doesn't work like that.

    We may have to be hard-nosed, but it is our individual responsibility to create a standard for our own communications. I quite often reply to my friends' e-mail with my own, but I also respond to e-mail with telephone calls or visits (if it's not too impertinent). Each of my friends has their own standard for cyber-communications as well. I respect the manner in which they choose to deal with my e-mail, and they do the same for me. If your friends freak out because you don't reply within minutes, you're the only one to blame. That's the standard you've set for yourself.

If I have not seen so far it is because I stood in giant's footsteps.

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