I heard an episode of Spark on the radio just now talking about a fellow at IBM who opted out of email (sort of). Instead of replying to the constant stream of email, he uses appropriate social networks instead. I’m envious of this, because I really dislike email generally. I dislike it because of how horribly misused it is. I’ve talked about this many times before; I believe that because email has such a water-tight metaphor, it’s easy for people to understand, so they use it for everything under the sun. I know several people who use email as a to-do list; an unread email message tells them what they need to do today, and they mark it read once it’s done. I find this frustrating. Obviously we have needs that go beyond email, and because so many people cling to email, we’re all forced to do it. I think email easily makes up about 60-70% of my work, because almost everyone I work with wants a response to something via email. Face to face is informal; email is our new paper trail.
So I’m inspired to try and break out of the email prison. I have doubts, though; since most of the people requesting my attention via email are faculty, I’m not sure I can really disentangle myself. Why faculty email me: they have a question they wouldn’t want to make public for fear of it making them look stupid (their questions never make them look stupid, but it’s a common fear); They know how to use email, and know how to email me; they want to be helped personally, not through an FAQ or tutorial system (we already have plenty of those). So anything we put in place to replace email for the kind of courseware support we provide to faculty, it would have to be private, personal, and easy. Easier than email. That is a tall, tall order.
So maybe I can’t convert faculty yet. (Emphasis on the “yet”.) So maybe we start in-house. We send A LOT of email to each other; it’s the way we track issues, and since it archives everything, it would be hard to convince people do use something else. Nora says they are trying Yammer at Spark to try and move away from email. I’ve tried things like this before, and while there is some support among my colleagues for trying something new, I’m not sure this would cover it. It might, though. I’ll give a shot.
I don’t think there’s anything out there right now that will really fit the bill of what we’re trying to do, barring things like Lotus Notes, which would probably do the trick. (I’ve never used Lotus Notes, but I’ve heard good things.) The circumstances of our workplace would have to change radically for something beyond email to be completely feasible. The biggest advantage email has right now is that we give every one email address, and everyone knows how to send an email message. It’s something they use for everything else. I wish there were a simple, obvious answer to avoid the email but keep the archive. The only step up that’s functionally in use is a ticket system, but that uses email anyway.
Yeah, I wish I could get rid of email, at least the kind that I usually get. It would be nice if email were only replacing what we would otherwise put into a printed letter to a person rather than a phone call or a face to face visit.