I Love and Hate Email

Publication Date: 2007-02-06

It's not often that you really can have this utterly contradictory feeling about something: a true love/hate relationship.

Email is incredibly handy because it allows me to send information to people without having to hand write, print and mail it. It also gives the person at the other end the ability to easily re-use the information. If I send instructions to my system administrator on tasks to do and she decides to delegate tasks to someone else, she can easily cut, paste and email information to those going to do the work.

It's also a cheap way to stay in touch with family members in other provinces. Since time zones are involved, I can write my brother a letter at 11 PM and it won't wake him up. I assure you that waking up my brother at 2 AM is a bad idea.

Also, at work, it allows me to focus my ideas. If I can't describe something in about 100 words, then obviously my thoughts are muddled. I also love my Sent log. It allows me to go back and see what I've sent people so that when I forget what I've asked someone to do, I can retrace my steps.

So, why do I hate email? Here are the five key reasons to hate email.

1. Unsolicited Commercial Email. Also known as spam. (These two sites will tell you more about spam: http://media.hormel.com/templates/knowledge/knowledge.asp?id=9 and http://www.cauce.org/)

2. Spam filter programs

3. Emotions in email

4. People not realizing that email is flawed. (See 1. and 2.)

5. People who have email but neither read it nor respond to it.

Junk mail in your inbox is a giant pain in the neck because it obscures the actual relevant email and obscures the good stuff. At Quokka Systems we try to reduce the number of mass e-mailings we do. We try to make sure the email address belongs to a real person or business and we know the name of that person. But sometimes our promotional emails get caught as spam and I accept that. It's still cheaper than Canada Post and the rules for promotional mail via the post is the same for email: address your letter to the right person and include relevant information.

Spam filters are a bother because they sometimes work in odd and wonderful ways. Lately you have likely seen spam trying to get you to buy stocks. This stuff is tricky as the message is an image file and the underlying text is gibberish that sneaks by the spam filters. That stuff gets through, but emails from my step-brother about family issues are flagged as spam. I had not yet put him in my white list or accepted senders list. Spam filters also vary by person. Yours may be on your computer, or your spam filter may be like mine, on the server that processes my email. This is why when customers call and say email did not get through, I can't help because I can tell that it went to them, but I have no influence over their spam filter settings. It's important to remember that people can send email and not be at fault that it did not get to you. The Internet uses computers to simulate Canada Post's letter carriers, sorting facilities and so forth. There are opportunities for lost mail, just like at Canada Post.

Important safety tip: Don't write emails when angry. (Or drunk.) Because of the stark nature of an email screen, all emails sound clinical or brusque. When you are angry email amplifies your ire. Plus, if you are angry, you need to go for a walk, and then call for clarification. At least half the time you are angry because you think the email you just got is an insult. Clarify first; get angry second.

People don't realize how flawed email is. Because you can't see the hoops that computers go through to get an email delivered, there seems to be a misperception that the communication is direct from one computer to another. There are at least two web server computers involved (mine and yours) and many possible intermediate points in-between.

Lastly people are a problem. In the case of a shared computer, say at the front desk of a hotel, the chance that someone deleted an email by accident is possible. When pounding on the delete key to get rid of pharmaceutical spam emails, you may inadvertently clobber a real email. Or people forgot (or don't know how) to check the spam filter. Also, there are people who just don't use email well. They don't check it often, or they don't reply because, perhaps, they feel that when they write an email it has to be perfect. Or they aren't good at typing or find writing difficult. It is up to you to get to know your regular correspondents and not put expectations on them that aren't reasonable.

People make mistakes and we all have to accept that, and be kind to others, even if we want them to reply to our email now!

If it weren't for spam, confused people, and misunderstood technology, I would say email is perfect. Besides, what would I do without it.

Robert Ford is a Vancouver entrepreneur who is shortly going to mass email his clients. Robert@quokkasystems.com
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