Column: Learning to hate email

I'm weakened by the summer heat and I can only hope you'll forgive me for tackling a subject of less-than-heroic scale.

I'm weakened by the summer heat and I can only hope you'll forgive me for tackling a subject of less-than-heroic scale.

My gripe: email. Specifically, how I'm starting to hate this so- called "productivity" tool. At the risk of sounding like I've got the prickly heat, here's why:

--Sheer volume. Managing email takes up a bigger chunk of time each day and many messages involve things the emailer ought to be doing for him or herself. Email's a guilt-free way to palm off chores without having to endure the baleful stares you'd get asking in person. Could you find me this? Could you send me that? Sure, I've got nothing else to do. (OK, I do it too.)

--Email as blow-off. Can't make the deadline? Muffed that assignment? Drop 'em a message! Email has joined the fax and voice mail as tools for responsibility avoidance. (Admit it, you call people during lunch hour hoping they're not around.) When it all goes south, just email the bad news. "Call me if you have any questions!" Sure. But you won't be around.

--Annoyingly constructed messages. What's more fun than pulling up a message with a gigantic header field filled with other addresses? Just keep paging down to find the inconsequential news. One recent missive started with three screens of addresses (145 to be exact) leading to the news that, in essence, the company had some news it was going to release later. Thanks! But that message was a piker compared to a release from Barrier Island Realty with 378 addresses up high and another 181 at the tail for a grand total of 559 addresses. Quite a routing list for a five-paragraph release about a free vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. (This is the equivalent of, say, a 1300-square inch piece of direct mail coming to your house with every address in your town on it.) And I got 13 copies of the message. Well, at least it had a subject line and it didn't contain any ...

--Attachments that launch other applications. Golly, there's nothing better than unwittingly clicking on an attachment and having it launch Netscape or Word or some other application. I know this is my own fault, but it doesn't make things any better.

This is just the tip of my email frustration iceberg and I know I'm not alone. What drives you crazy? And how do we clean up email?

(John Gallant, editor-in-chief of Network World US, can be reached at jgallant@nww.com.)

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