Friend or Foe?” cries the clichéd sentinel on a foggy castle keep. With email, it seems no one knows how to answer that question. Without email, I could not live the way I choose to or do my work the way I like to do. Unquestionably, email has made my life better.
But like most good things, it goes kind of sour when it hangs around too long. It starts out as your friend, but after a while resentment and antipathy set in. How did I let this thing run my life? Why does it suck so much time? When can I get away from it? Like helping someone in a dysfunctional relationship, it’s time for an intervention. Email needs a stern talking to. Get back where you belong! Leave me alone! Like an intervention, the nature of email also evokes lots of emotion.
When talking about social software adoption with clients, I often end up talking about doing less email, or even eliminating it entirely. This doesn’t feel right, however. It’s hard to drive adoption of something by telling people to stop doing something else. It’s like being on a sinking boat and concentrating on lowering the level of the ocean. We need to stop the leaks and get the water out of the boat. Social techniques can help us do that, so we need more social.
By promoting tools attuned to the work we are doing that involve colleagues at the right time with less friction, we won’t need to resort to email as much. Email usage will go down as a result of good collaboration practices. Attacking email itself as inefficient could be correct, but ultimately is distracting. Asking a colleague to use a wiki because everyone can edit it and see each other’s changes is more convincing than extolling the evils of emailing copies of a Word file around. Maybe I am just a positive person, but focusing on benefits of the new approach rather than the problems of the old one is more appealing to me. I guess I could never go into politics.
If I never had to fire up an email client again, I would not regret it – assuming that everyone who needs to would see my comments, likes, references, comments and questions. Some people or organizations might need to push off of email to get on to social platforms. I suspect that all that pushing and shoving will create as much resentment in the long term as that bossy email client did in the first place.