All Email is Spam


by Samuel Greengard

Right now, I'm trying to escape inbox hell.

My e-mail inbox is teetering north of 3,600 items and I feel like it has become a cancer growth. Normally, I try to file messages as they arrive and keep it down to about 50-100 items. But thanks to a vacation, a few business days out of the office, a heavy workload, kids and sundry life events it's recently emerged as the creature from the electronic lagoon.

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about poorly designed marketing methods and how they create mental clutter and short-circuit the companies sending the messages. Since then, my thinking has evolved. I've come to the conclusion that virtually all e-mail is spam. Frankly, I'm exhausted. More than 200 e-mails a day has become a crushing burden. Unfortunately, as it so often happens, the solution has become the problem.

Think about how frequently this occurs. Some spiffy new technology comes along and the world goes gaga over it. Adoption soars and everyone gushes over its value. E-mail was and still is revolutionary. You can send a message--along with actual documents, photos, you name it--to someone on the other side of the world. They receive it instantly. Geez, 100 years ago it took weeks or months to get a simple letter to someone far away. Twenty years ago, you had to pop the document into a pouch and pay FedEx to fly it there overnight.

The problem is that too much of a good thing isn't good. Everyone now depends on e-mail to trim costs and reduce mailing expenses. However, when the entire world uses the same technology it ceases to be a competitive advantage. It's simply a baseline for doing business and, essentially, just another step in the staircase. Meanwhile, innovators look for new ways to break through the clutter. So, we're on to the next solution that will eventually become a problem. Here we go round the merry-go-round!

It's a ride that doesn't switch off. Instant messaging seemed so wonderful initially because you could break through the clutter of e-mail and reach someone faster. But then you started getting pinged 17 times per hour and you probably found yourself cursing under your breath because you couldn't get any work done. Ditto for text messaging, Skype, Twitter and just about every other so-called communications "solution".

As for me, I'm clicking the "unsubscribe" link every chance I get. I'll somehow survive without all the newsletters, press releases, merchant ads and charitable requests. And, while I'm at it, I'm switching off IM. An inability to control the technology means that it controls you. At some point one has to wonder if constantly running faster and covering more territory translates into any kind of improvement.

The inbox doesn't lie.