Don't Blame Email


By Samuel Greengard

When I think about business interactions in today's world I think about my teenage son. Smart kid, short attention span. No knock on him -- we've all been trained like circus chimps to dance around the flood of messages and media hitting our in-boxes each day. We're all over-stimulated.

Factor in voicemail, instant messaging, SMS, Skype, Twitter, Facebook and other "productivity tools" and it all becomes oppressive.

Add one tool and you achieve a productivity gain. Add 17 and you wind up with a sum that's less than the individual parts. Even more disturbing: most of us are entirely clueless about how to use all these tools effectively.

A few days ago, while talking to a human resources consultant on the phone, she tossed out the idea that e-mail is passé, if not entirely obsolete. It will soon be relegated to the dustbin of history by newer social media tools. I've heard this line a lot lately.

Sorry I don't buy it.

No denying e-mail has its downside. It can become a huge distraction (read this). Moreover, spam is a Category 5 headache (read this).

But e-mail is actually a fairly versatile tool for communication, provided that it is used the right way. It's asynchronous, searchable, and easy to access anytime, anywhere--including on mobile devices. It can also accommodate audio, photos and video.

Unfortunately, there's always the Next Big Thing. Although it's tempting to view social media as a communications revolution--and it certainly is in many ways--it probably won't become the center of the messaging universe. Do I really want to check a Twitter feed every 10 minutes to see if I have a message there too? Do I want to deal with a 140 character limit?

Think about it: you get a few tweets a day, cool. You get hundreds, not so cool. Worse: there's always some genius that thinks he can grab your attention a half a nanosecond sooner or cut through the pixeljam faster by Facebooking or Tweeting you. Well...he succeeds...for about a week or so. Then you realize it's just another system to check and, hey, how is it fundamentally different than e-mail?

The solution? Consolidate all these systems and, if possible, create a universal inbox that can accommodate everything--e-mail, voicemail, social networking messages and more. Create a strategy for integrating social networking in the fabric of the business. And while we're chasing rainbows, how about an instruction manual that teaches people some common sense about which medium to use and how to use it?

The problem, these days, is that instead of using the "productivity tools" we have well we're simply running around like distracted teenagers and circus chimps.