E-mail, once the most effective way to communicate with your tech-savvy associates, has become useless for too many people. Has anyone else noticed this phenomenon? It’s essentially dead. So now what are we supposed to do? Phone?
Most of you reading this column will understand what I’m saying— those who don’t understand have either already given up on e-mail or never found it very functional in the first place.
Here are the issues that have made e-mail useless for me.
1. The ever-changing address. People change their e-mail address far too often. Few have a permanent e-mail address where people can always contact them—or even understand the importance of a permanent address. Instead they go to work for a company and use the company-provided address. They quit the company and often never have their mail forwarded to the new address. Essentially they fall off the map. And when they decide to establish a permanent e-mail address, they use a Yahoo or Google address that is never their name. Instead, it’s something like firstname.lastname@example.org, which they can barely remember themselves. And none of this is helped by the assertion of some pundits that changing your address every few months cuts down on spam.
2. The Spam conundrum. A lot of people ended up with poorly administered e-mail systems that resulted in boxes filled with so much spam that the user had to abandoned the entire address (see above).
3. The empty box. This is kind of the opposite of the spam-filled box. Here we have someone in a milieu that does not really embrace e-mail so his mailbox is perpetually empty. The person thus never gets into actually looking at the contents much, if ever. Yet they will tell people they have an e-mail address. This compounds the problem, since an e-mail to this person may not earn a response for weeks if not months—making the process useless.
4. The e-mail tourist. This is very similar to the empty-box scenario, but in this case we have a person who really has no intention of ever using e-mail and stupidly gives out an e-mail address because it is the thing to do. This sort of person is the most detestable, in my opinion.
5. The dead-box syndrome. Million of people used AOL e-mail over the years, and far too many of these addresses still float around the ether as legitimate addresses. Indeed, they’re actively open and collecting dead letters that will never be read, nor will they ever bounce back to the sender to let them know that something is amiss. While these boxes should be shut down if they are never looked into, they are not.
6. The useless filter. Most modern e-mail systems filter spam to a greater or lesser degree. Unfortunately, the creeps who develop spamming tricks work endlessly to bypass these filters, resulting in a haphazard process that causes e-mail to simply get lost.
7. The competition: IM and closed systems. It amazes me how many people—and there’s no age factor here—eschew e-mail for IMs or even Twitter messages. There are some people you can contact on Facebook or LinkedIn who will not answer their e-mail. I find this particularly weird.
8. The lack of assurance. There is no real way of confirming receipt of an e-mail other than the annoying receipt request. The e-mail mechanism itself should be something you can query about the disposition of the message. And this should come from both sides. The recipient should be able to ask who exactly sent the message, and when, and how. The sender should be able to query the system as to whether the e-mail was received, and by who, and whether it was opened or not. Is this asking too much in the computer age?
9. The black hole. The above mechanism would eliminate the problem of e-mail black holes—people who claim that they read all their e-mail but might not answer any of it. This is great, right? The sender never knows if this is true (and it seldom is). The fact is, if you get no response back, you have to assume the mail was never received. Sorry. When you look over this short list (and please, add some of your own thoughts), you quickly see that the great e-mail revolution is over and done with. E-mail is essentially unreliable; it needs a major, world-class overhaul in its basic design. The system has been dead for probably a decade, and I’m amazed that such a potentially useful and universal tool has been allowed to so deteriorate. E-mail is a carcass on the side of the information highway, rotting away.