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Tech Columnists' Day Without Email 204

Carl Bialik from the WSJ writes "When a recent power outage disrupted email service at WSJ.com, our tech columnists were plunged backwards into a time before every meeting, every little task, came with an email-program reminder, and where checking the bottom right of the screen for a new-mail envelope was futile. "Some of us quickly got a reminder that email is the lingua franca of projects that bridge different departments and involve a lot of people," Tim Hanrahan and Jason Fry write. "For all the talk of whiteboarding, it's email threads that we rely on to remember where we left certain questions and what our next moves are. Similarly, email has become our storage system for important documents and works in progress--how often do you email yourself? It's also replaced the telephone for lots of our routine touching base between colleagues, friends and families: Instant messaging is simultaneously too casual and too intrusive, and weekday phoning is reserved for more-substantive matters and emergencies. So a lot of that social lubrication went out the window.""
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Tech Columnists' Day Without Email

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  • by teutonic_leech ( 596265 ) on Monday June 06, 2005 @01:07PM (#12737442)
    I was working on a development contract when our CEO decided to cut Internet access for all consultants (someone was caught bidding on eBay - not me ;-) Anyway, I was so distraught, I quit the next day...
  • Get it in email (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Austerity Empowers ( 669817 ) on Monday June 06, 2005 @01:08PM (#12737457)
    Let's not forget the chant of the manager "Get it in email". In some companies email is also used for the Wheel of Blame, everyones favorite management technique.

    Do not talk to someone on the phone. Do not talk to him face to face. Do not IM him (and hey, what IT department hasn't locked IM along with everything else down anyhow). Ask questions and expect answers in email, or do it in meetings with witnesses. Leave a paper trail and keep it documented.

    This sounds like cynicism, I think it is, but it's not mine. This is how many corporations appear to "work". Email is the ultimate accountability tool.

  • Good old days (Score:3, Interesting)

    by moz25 ( 262020 ) on Monday June 06, 2005 @01:09PM (#12737459) Homepage
    It amuses me to think back about arguments I've had several years ago about the merits of the internet and of using email. The other guy (management-ish type) didn't get the point and said that if he wanted to contact a person, he'd just pick up the phone and call them. Fast-forward to 2005...

    Frankly though, I've had a bit of an internet-outage at home once or twice. To my own surprise, I found it a bit refreshing to not have access for a short while.
  • by Neil Blender ( 555885 ) <neilblender@gmail.com> on Monday June 06, 2005 @01:09PM (#12737460)
    The next it's "OMG WHERE'S MY EMAIL?!?!?!" Make up your minds.
  • by ultimabaka ( 864222 ) on Monday June 06, 2005 @01:10PM (#12737472)
    (a) Am I the only one who thinks it's a bit much when coworkers who sit RIGHT NEXT TO ONE ANOTHER communicate only through e-mail? It's frightening how often that happens in my corporate office - how about you guys?
    (b) So it occurred to absolutely no one in all of the Wall Street Journal that you could have asked to save a copy of your previous e-mails and Calendar information onto your own computer? Not being able to send e-mails in the present is one thing (and the phone works fine for that), but to tell me that your entire past was wiped out cuz you were too dumb to ask for your stuff to be saved? C'mon.
  • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Monday June 06, 2005 @01:11PM (#12737476) Homepage
    I don't use e-mail in the way described by the article, not at all. It is too full of utterly useless garbage to be of any use as a reminder or storage system. I routinely go "a day without e-mail", and the only disruption it causes me is the extra time it then takes the next time I sift through my inboxes for things I might actually want to read.
  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Monday June 06, 2005 @01:14PM (#12737509) Journal
    At work, I'm pretty much dependent upon email. So going without would mean not bothering coming into work at all.

    On my private address, I have a few friends that send infrequent correspondence, a few small mailing lists (no 300 messages a day crap) and a few writing projects I'm working on with some other people. None of these require me to look every day, and if I've got better things to do, email can wait.

  • by downsize ( 551098 ) * on Monday June 06, 2005 @01:14PM (#12737513) Homepage Journal
    in my past, I have worked as an admin. actually not that long ago I worked for a company that still ran NT 4.0 with Exchange vDinosour. The machines ran on tar from the tar pits.

    Anyway, my job was to keep those damn things from extinction - it was a near impossible task.
    On a couple of occasions the email server would get completely full (how's a total of 16GB for a 200+ person International company grab ya?) and email would stop. I would have to jump through hoops to get space back - force users to make personal .ost files yadda, yadda

    The kicker was always that everyone would scream and bitch about loosing money and can't operate without email.

    My point was always A) switch to linux and B) if you loose money and operations cease, why not spend ~$20K and get a stable email system in place? If they would have put any money into their cornerstone, life-blood system (email) or used an outside service provider [shinyfeet.com] - I'd still have a job and they would not be OOB! :-P
  • Asimov knew it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RealProgrammer ( 723725 ) on Monday June 06, 2005 @01:18PM (#12737541) Homepage Journal

    In the Foundation trilogy (*), Isaac Asmimov portrayed a stilted society full of academic "scientists" who never ventured into a lab, but did their scientific work by critiquing the work of others.

    While he was mostly lampooning the way academic scholarship can replace actual research, I think he would have smiled knowingly. A news organization whose workers are lost without the ability to have news delivered to them would have fit perfectly into the pre-Mule galaxy.

    Or maybe I'm just reading more into the story than the WSJ folkd deserve. Maybe it's just a sign of the times that email has so thoroughly penetrated business operations.

    (*) I haven't read Asimov in 20 years, so I apologize for my hazy memory and the arrogance to expound on it.
  • by Leroy_Brown242 ( 683141 ) on Monday June 06, 2005 @01:19PM (#12737543) Homepage Journal
    "if you treat people like children they will act like children."

    Durring the great belt tightening after the bubble burst, I saw this happen countless times at several jobs. Once you start restricting people's freedoms at work, geeks tend to just push back or leave.
  • by Nyhm ( 645982 ) * on Monday June 06, 2005 @01:20PM (#12737566)
    The focus of email-as-life-manager within this article concerns me. To me, this article is a cry for help: WSJ is in desperate need of a software system engineered to meet their actual work environment. It sounds like they need some type of dynamic workflow and collaboration tool. Discovering and documenting their work environment would be very challenging and interesting. Further, deriving software requirements and architecting a software system to aid in their daily jobs would be a very valuable undertaking. This could help everyone at WSJ communicate and collaborate more effectively.

    My resume is available upon request.

    What do other /. folks feel about this type of "abuse" (i.e., not using/developing the right tool for the right job)? Should we just use what is immediately available or take the time to develop tailored solutions? Does anyone know of a Free and open source system for building workflow and collaboration systems? Does JBoss fit these scenarios, or should we start from scratch?
  • by bluGill ( 862 ) on Monday June 06, 2005 @02:06PM (#12738149)

    Actually I do email my self once in a while. When I decide to run to a store on my lunch break I'm best off sending an email from my home account to my work account. (why make a special trip for something I don't need tonight when the store is right next to where I eat lunch) I could write a list, but if I don't put it in my pocket the next morning I won't know what I needed. (besides, it is easier for me to type list than to hand write it)

    Email doesn't forget (barring a rare system crash) until I tell it to. Email is always there - with webmail I can check my email nearly everywhere, so there is no excuse "unable to read the list".

    True a PDA would do most of these tasks better, but I don't have a PDA. I have email.

Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?