In 1972, a US programmer by the name of Ray Tomlinson sent a message containing the letters “QWERTYUIOP” to himself via a network of connected computers referred to, at the time, as ARPANET. At first look, one could be forgiven for not really considering this a big deal. Indeed, Tomlinson himself notes that the message contents was ‘entirely forgettable’. But what makes this simple message somewhat more interesting is the fact that it was considered to be the very first email ever sent – an electronic message delivering content between two connected computers. ARPANET turned out to be the pre-cursor to a much larger network now commonly referred to as ‘The Internet’. And from that one little insignificant message hurtling its way through a twisted network of wires and electrons, we’ve now arrived in a world where over 100 billion emails are sent every day. Email is by far the most predominant form of communication for businesses and it’s expected that, by 2018, we will see an average of 97 emails flooding our inboxes every day.
So what impact does this have for the communications industry? Surely – as the number one form of instant communication – email can only have had a positive effect on our efficiencies, output and workflow? Well, in some ways yes. But there are a number of theories out there that position email as a growing menace; a victim of its own popularity or, as one writer puts it, ‘the most reviled communication experience ever’.
There’s no doubt that humans, in embracing a modern, connected lifestyle, are experiencing a whole new wave of digi-feels. Traversing a world of emojis, 140 character updates and five second Snapchats has shortened our attention spans, we’re experiencing phantom vibrations (an actual, documented thing) and there’s even evidence to suggest the next generation of digitally-savvy Generation Alphas will have physically stronger thumbs. We’ve literally LOL’d, OMG’d and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ our way to brand new thumbs. Like,WTF?! If God were an ISP, he’d be crying digital tears – raining down kitten memes and click-bait onto the world below.
The link between consistent email bombardment and stress levels are well documented. Psychologist and author of ‘The Best Place To Work’ further clarifies this association. “Each message represents another demand on your time and another decision you have to make. The higher the number of demands placed on you, the more likely you are to experience stress, which impacts your ability to think and communicate clearly.” So, as expert communicators, are we killing our ability to create and interact with each other properly? Potentially.
But how do you solve a problem like email? A few e-warriors have proposed new ways of working with our inboxes. Peter Bregman, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done is an advocate of the ‘batch process’ – that is, reducing you email checks to three or four times daily. Sound terrifying? Well, consider there’s still the phone for anything super-urgent. Shayne Hughes, chief executive of a company called Learning as Leadership, even banned all internal emails for a week at a time – seing a significant uplift in productivity and team morale as a result.
While it would be foolish to lead an anti-email revolution, perhaps it’s time to take a good, hard look at ourselves and our broken relationship with the inbox. Email and, more broadly, technology can be the both the best and worst of times. It’s how we decide to use it that will be the biggest game-changer. Let’s think about how we use email as an enabler, rather than the destroyer of all focus. Let’s consign the obnoxious red exclamation mark to the bin of bad ideas. Let’s remind ourselves of simple, face-to-face human conversation. Let’s exchange a few jolly ‘Good Mornings!’ every day. With our actual mouths.
Written by Ben Cooper – Account Director, Pulse Communications