The possible uselessness of email

October 28, 2005

My wife’s grandmother commented the other day that since her computer got fried in a lightening storm, she hasn’t been able to check her email. And that storm happened in August.

It got me thinking about how easily email can become useless as a form of communication for some people. This storm gave her no time to warn people that she might not be able to receive email for awhile, and so in all probability, anyone who has sent her an email recently has no idea that she’s not getting them. Thus, this form of communication could even be destructive in some ways, as people think she’s getting information they are sending her and will expect her to act on this information in some way. While anything sent to her via email probably isn’t critical news, its still interesting how this form of communication can lead to the wrong assumption that your transmissions are actually being pickuped.

Like an answering machine: I could leave messages all day long (or until the machine is filled up) but if you’re not there to push the button, you won’t here a word of it. Yet, I would still expect you to have received my communication soon after I sent it.

The problem with this form of information transfer is that there is no confirmation that your information has indeed been received and understood by its intended target. We know if we sent the email, or voice mail to the right place, but we really have no idea if anyone is checking that particular place.

I guess what I’m saying here, is call people who are too lazy / busy to check their email, and don’t leave a message.
This post is boring but I have another one coming that’s even worse!

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Uselessness of email part 2

October 8, 2005

Another way email can become useless, that I’ve seen a couple of times, is when the amount of garbage coming in greatly out numbers the number of communications containing real information. That is to say, when spam overruns your email. For some, this problem is unavoidable. If you have your email address on a website to contact for tech support, for example, you are probably going to have a lot of junk mail. Nothing much you can do about it.
However, many people I see with this problem are not tech savvy in this way, and still get a ton of emails that they cannot (or think they cannot)do anything about. For example, my grandfather probably gets a few dozen spam messages a day. The same for my mother, and even my old hotmail address. Right now it has something like 2000 unread messages not marked as spam by hotmail (cause hotmail blows) but absolutely worthless to me.

For the technologically hip, there are ways to combat this spam in the form of filters and email rules, etc. But for my grandfather, he doesn’t understand the concept of web-based email(like hotmail or gmail) and only understands that email gets downloaded to his computer with another application (namely Mac’s Mail app). He is at no level to start an active battle against his spam, and I don’t have enough free time or care to start it for him.

This makes email useless because you spend much more time sorting through spam than reading email. Why would anyone go through the trouble of deleting 40 spam messages just to see the latest joke about bridge players from aunt Kathy? It doesn’t make sense.

My proposed solution is something I’ve been advocating to my uninformed elders for quite some time: get a new email address. This is usually received with a cold shudder, and the remark that it would be far too difficult to switch addresses now, all my contacts and friends already know this one.

Blah! There is probably less then a dozen people that email my grandfather every month. It would take one email to less then 20 people (once they understand they can email more than one person at the same time) to successfully alert those people of your change. This is far less trouble than what he’s doing now:
His current email address came from his original Earthlink dialup connection. It only has 10 mb of space, and so a few 2 megapixel pictures can completely fill it up. Also, my grandfather has since switched to DSL, and so pays an extra $15 a month JUST to keep this one very very crappy email address. Ridiculous.

A new email address would make his life a lot easier.

And how do we avoid clogging new email up with just as much spam and repeating the whole process? Simple: Don’t email anyone that you don’t trust with your new email address. Don’t post it anywhere on the internet. Don’t sign up for any “free deals” with it. Just email friends with it. Use your OLD crappy email to do all that other stuff you need an email for. In short: Don’t make all the same mistakes you used to with your old address.
This makes email (and life) fun again. I actually use 4 email accounts to segment this process even more. Sign up with suspicious stuff with my crappy hotmail and yahoo accounts, keep my gmails clean and wonderful.

There are other tricks to helping with the tides of spam, but I’ve bored you enough already, and you probably haven’t gotten this far down anyways.