Ok I admit it. I am a 'baby boomer' and I'm proud of it.
I came from a time before there was an internet or world wide web outside of academia. I came from a time where the inbox was a physical receptacle on someone's desk, which more often than not, had a pile of internal memorandums, forms and correspondence heaped in it – newest at the top, oldest at the bottom. I came from a time when administration and operations meant 'paper shuffling' along with the inefficiencies of lost files, duplication of data and errors.
My first exposure to electronic mail was in the mid 1980's when I first joined IBM in Australia. And for any Generation Y's or Millennials reading this post, yes electronic mail did exist before he internet. Our system was called “PROFS” which was short for “Professional Office System” and whilst it was limited in distribution capabilities to those on our internal network, it allowed me to correspond with colleagues from around the world at electronic, not physical speeds. It allowed processes like 'leave requests' to be automated completely eliminating the use of paper forms, and associated physical routing, filing and duplication of information in a myriad of filing cabinets.
As all good stories go, “I remember when” seems to be the first three words that spring to mind when I see people criticising email today as being unproductive and inefficient manner of communication.
Email is not unproductive. Nor is it an inefficient form of communications. It does today, exactly what it was envisaged to do when first implemented within many organisations some 30 plus years ago, viz as an electronic replacement for the physical distribution of mail.
And in being a replacement for an existing process, it served to replicate what mail physically was all about. Since the advent of the telephone, fax machine even as far back as Telex machines, mail was always intended to be utilised for non-time critical transmission of information between one person and another.
Not for broadcasting information – that was the purpose of the physical Notice Board within every office.
Not for collaboration and engaging in a group discussion on a project – that was the purpose of status meetings.
And certainly not for the communication of messages that needed an immediate response – that was the purpose of the telephone, the telex machine or, heaven forbid, actually meeting with someone and communicating.
OK, I will remove my tongue from my cheek now, but I think you get the picture.
Email was never intended for any of those activities.
Email is a tool for communications, not for collaboration.
The problem has always been that email is a universal tool these days, just like mobile phones and the internet. And for many using email has become the easy way out. Type and email, attach the status update on a project and press send. No need to discuss it in detail face to face. Let's handle the comments and objections electronically as to why we are behind on budget. Or lets send this report to the team, but also link in my manager and those in his team so everyone can see how had I have worked – also know as the “Just in Case” email.
To me, email is one of the many tools I use to communicate with others. But it is not the only.