Do you remember your first email? I don’t, but like many of my peers, I began using email in the mid-1990s, first at the office and quickly afterwards for personal communications with friends and family. I do remember not quite understanding why my boss (whom I still consider the best boss I ever had) kept insisting that I send him an email when I could just as easily pop my head into his cubicle and tell him in person. Until it hit me. Emailing meant that I didn’t have to interrupt his train of thought by distracting him from whatever he was concentrating on. Nor did I have to wait for him to finish his current conversation, whether in person or on the phone. And the real bonus: I could quickly keyboard whatever I needed to convey, know it was delivered and get it off MY plate. On top of all that, there was a paper trail (well, most of the time this is a benefit). Needless to say, after this AHA moment – even though we didn’t call it an AHA moment then – my typing speed increased exponentially and I became a believer.
For sure, email usage has evolved since those first days of my love affair with the SEND button, but I still feel that no other mode of communication is as effective as sending a well written email. Let’s compare.
Email vs picking up the phone (or smartphone) I admit that there are many situations in which the most efficient way to get results is to pick up the phone and have an instantaneous, two-way conversation with whomever. I often get tired of ping-ponging a topic back and forth and decide to make the call, hash it out and move on. On the other hand, sometimes the person I need to speak with is not available to take the call or maybe she’s in a public space and can’t talk freely. Also in phone conversations, there is no written record of what was finally decided – unless one of you takes the time to summarize and send via email.
Email vs social media messaging Although I can live without social media, I do regularly check my three most favorite accounts. I believe that these alternative conversation channels have helped relieve much of the overload in my email inbox by transferring those casual, just-keeping-in-touch conversations to social media platforms. In recent years, I’ve found that my email usage mix is roughly 15% for personal conversations and 85% for taking care of business. It also helps that I have separate email addresses for work and pleasure. So, I guess it’s not really email versus social media messaging, but one complementing the other.
Email vs snail mail Not even going there. It should be obvious.
Most effective method of collaboration
I’m not the kind of person who can think on their feet. I need to take a few minutes to gather my thoughts, analyze my response options and construct a thoughtful reply that I can be proud of. Often when I do shoot off a quick answer, I live to regret it. This is why I prefer emails.
A few years ago I read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It is a wonderful read in which the author artfully mixes her own personal experience with reputable research and studies. One tidbit that has stayed with me was from a study that found that the most effective mode of collaboration between scientists was email communications, which trumped phone calls, face-to-face conferences and brainstorming. This because emailing allowed each participant in the collaboration to take as much time as they needed to read, digest and construct a productive reply. Yet, the pace of the discussion was still quick enough to keep the creative juices flowing.
But what about the curse of email marketing?
Yes, many of you still suffer from email overload and I’m guessing that a good part of this is due to the many e-newsletters and email marketing solicitations that we all receive. But you know what, because the CANSPAM regulations are for the most part working, today I have pretty good control over what blatant marketing communications I receive. I regularly sign up for newsletters I’m interested in at the moment and then unsubscribe a few months later when I find I’m not reading them anymore. So, in that respect it’s a win-win situation: I’m exposed to the content I’m interested in, albeit from the authors’ point of view with a plug for their product/service, and they get their advertising moment. I can live with that, especially since I myself do email marketing for both me and for my clients.
Still a believer
So, yeah, I’m still enamored with sending emails and, nine times out of ten, will choose it as my "weapon" of choice for biz communications. Truth is, I don’t see anything better taking its place anytime soon. Sure, the tools we use to send emails have evolved from simple typed text on a desktop to audio/video messages on the go from our mobile devices. But fundamentally, emails still serve the same purpose: to swiftly and conveniently converse with other humans on a personal and professional level. Still a believer, after all these years.