Email, 1961-2007 R.I.P… Thank God!

If I Could Hold Her

The death of e-mail. – By Chad Lorenz – Slate Magazine Slate Magazine is out with an article titled “The Death of Email.” The article points to the declining useage of email by the people who really matter. The kids.

From Slate: “So, is the solution to browbeat these little rebels back in line and enforce mandatory e-mail usage? Good luck. Chances are, as usual, that the grown-ups will be the ones who are forced to adapt. Colleges have already thrown up their hands and created Facebook and MySpace pages to stay in touch with students. Since Facebook opened its gates to oldsters this year, parents are coming in and setting up camp a safe viewing distance from their kids. I, too, have become a Facebook believer, and most of my friends are joining the church. There’s no better way to follow the goings-on—both major and trivial—of your group of friends than skimming the Facebook news feed.

It may seem unfortunate that right when senior citizens became comfortable with e-mail, a host of new technologies are making their habits archaic.”

And I read this article and can’t help but keep muttering inside, “Yes. Yes! YES!!!! Die email die!”

Increasingly email is playing a smaller and smaller role in my own life. I used to spend hours every day in email. Checking my email. Answering emails. Following up. Sending my own email to others and merely perpetuating the problem. Email sucks. Now I spend maybe 30 minutes a day skimming my email, ignoring most of them, deleting most of them. Answering a few.

At present I have 3,002 messages in my email inbox. Of these 2,794 are unread. And this is already after committing email suicide once. One of the fortunate by products of my Mac’s hard drive recently failing was that it wiped out all of the 5,000+ messages that I could never quite get to.

Let’s look why my email is irelevant. My last 10 emails this morning.

1. An email from some guy who wants me to check out a new photography site.

2. An email notification that someone on Pownce replied to one of my posts (I really should turn that notification feature off).

3. An email notification that someone left a comment on one of my photos on Zooomr

4. An email from Apple Computer to “put more happy in my holidays.” Do I ever remember opting into any Apple marketing email list? No. But obviously somehow I did. Another one I’ll have to try and unsubscribe from.

5. An email from someone named Napoleon X. Holder with the subject line “True masculinity is impossible without a substantial volume of male meat.” The ensuing email is a commercial for something called MegaDick.

6. Another reply to a Pownce post.

7. An unsolicited email from a PR person pushing their product.

8. An email from “Marketing at Alamy.” Again something that I don’t remember ever opting into and yet I’m sure I probably did.

9. Another piece of spam from someone named Sophia about “Females woe sucking zxab Homo’s jqs Dick,” whatever the hell that means. I do by the way have Apple’s junk mail feature turned on and mark these spams as junk every single day and yet they still keep coming.

10. A support question for Zooomr.

Now, I could go on with the next 90 or so, but I guarantee you that they are equally uncompelling. Now the question for me is, would I rather sit around and read this drivel? Or, would I rather be outside taking photos, playing with my kids, inside processing photos, hanging out on Zoooomr, blogging, IMing someone that I really actually know about something that I really actually care about, checking my Pownce or Facebook accounts, signing up for Netflix (I actually did that yesterday for the first time) etc.

Occasionally I do get email from people that I actually know and a lot of time that gets ignored too. Sometimes I’ll respond but in general I just hate email so much that it’s like what’s the point? Responding will only encourage them to send even *more* email in the future (there are exceptions to this rule of course and there are a handful of people that I actually enjoy engaging in email dialogue with).

Sometimes people will give me crap about not returning their emails when I see them in real life. “Dude, I sent you three emails and you never responded.”

But that’s where the beauty of spam comes in. “You did? Crap! That spam filter never lets anything through. Sorry dude. What’s up?”

The thing is that I could spend 8 hours a day answering email and who the hell wants to live like that?

Personally I like communicating on IM and social networks best. Social networks filter out much of the noise with spam. I never get spam in my Zooomr mail. I also get very little spam in my Facebook mail or in Pownce messages. I like the messages on social networks because they tend to be from people that I really know, or at least kind of know, and they tend to be shorter. IM works well too because I can do other things *while* I’m iming. Much more productive.

There is still one thing I hate more than email though and that’s the phone. I simply never ever answer it unless I can see who it is that is calling on the caller ID *and* I feel like talking to that person right then and there. At home I never answer it for sure. On my cell most of the time I’ll just let the calls go to voicemail and maybe follow back up with… yep, you guessed it, an email! Which as bad as it is isn’t near as bad as being stuck on the phone with someone for 35 minutes when you’d rather be sitting out at Albany Beach taking pictures of your kids in silhouette against the world’s most amazing sunset (more on that to come later).

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39 comments on “Email, 1961-2007 R.I.P… Thank God!
  1. Drew says:

    I guess that is what happened to the e-mail I sent you. Man you are a popular guy, over 2000 unread e-mails. Wow.

  2. Andrew says:

    IM is too disruptive to my workflow. Social networks will inherit these problems if everyone stopped using email.

    Email isn’t going away. You should try a good spam filter and then keep up with your email, use GTD methodology if you have to.

  3. Thomas Hawk says:

    IM is too disruptive to my workflow.

    Andrew, that’s the beautiful thing about it though. If someone IM’s you and you don’t want to chat you can just ignore.

  4. Thomas Hawk says:

    Man you are a popular guy, over 2000 unread e-mails.

    Drew, I don’t think popularity with people that can’t even spell Roolex, Micros0ft or Viaxxgrxa count ;)

  5. Eric says:

    Pfft.. you don’t know what you’re missing Thomas. Why I got this interesting email from this nice man in Nigria this morning…

  6. Tim says:

    See, I am the opposite. I find IM so disturbing I never turn it on. Everybody wants to chat all the time, so I rather have an email waiting and reply whenever I have time…..

  7. Jonester says:

    Great article! Funny also, I agree I get tons of stupid emails in my spam box. I must share sometime.

  8. Brian McNitt says:

    1. An inbox zero system that works for me.

    2. There is a client app for Pownce now that makes it more Twitter like. IMHO, they need to do away with email notifications, at least as the default setting.

  9. Todd says:

    I don’t know, I love email. I love my Gmail. It’s got the best Spam filtering I’ve used, so I’m not bothered with spam.

    And Thomas, it sounds like you’re talking about getting too many email notification from services that you’ve opted in to receive. I don’t know how this is any different than getting notifications on Facebook, or twitter, etc. Sounds like you’ve overwhelmed your email in box! I don’t see using Facebook to escape this. When I go to Facebook, I see an equally number of useless messages, granted they’re for services I’ve accidentally opted into

    Maybe you need to have a couple different email accounts. One you give out for close people, one you use when you sign up for random services, one you use for your public profiles, like your blogging, etc…This way, you use your main email account for private communications, and then if you have time, you go check out what people are writing to you from your blog, facebook, zoomer commenets, etc.

    It sounds like you’re not managing your email well if you’re getting all those notifications from sevices you’ve opted into! It also sounds like you’re basically using Facebook to manage all this general public facing persona stuff of yours?

    Also, when using Facebook, I couldn’t imagine doing massive amounts of correspondence with their crappy messaging system that feels like it’s from 1998. I’d miss my email client too much!

    So, I guess I’m interested in learning more about how you’re using Facebook to deal with all the communications, and how it saves time.

  10. Jim says:

    Facebook seems like it would do at ok job for sending messages, but how do you communicate with people who aren’t on facebook? The more I think about what would have to happen to facebook messaging in order for it to be usefull (ability to send to anyone, ability to access messages through stand-alone programs, etc), the more it sounds like email.

    Btw, are you serious about schools giving up on using emails to contact it’s students? If a student is not responding to official school and course emails, they deserve to flunk out! College students are not children, schools shouldn’t be wasting their time hand-delivering correspondance.

  11. Cat Laine says:

    If someone IM’s you and you don’t want to chat you can just ignore.

    Eeek. I can never manage to do that. It seems too rude. I usually put myself on invisible. My friends all know that I’m always online, but then they only IM me when there is something really pressing or juicy.

  12. Eric says:

    It sounds like you just need to set up some filtering. Set up a white list for the people you actually have an interest in hearing from (and for anything else you might have a bona fide interest in), and send everything else to an archive folder. If you’re not actually responding to these notifications right away, I’d turn them off – you’ll see them when and if you next log in to pownce, facebook, whatever.

    Personally, I vastly prefer IM though, and that’s where most of my communication takes place. Presence is a critical attribute that’s lacking with both phone and email.

  13. Thomas Hawk says:

    It sounds like you’re not managing your email well if you’re getting all those notifications from sevices you’ve opted into!

    Todd, I’m very much part of the problem and realize this, but it’s funny how much email I get from things that I don’t ever consciously remember opting into.

    But be that as it may, it still makes email less than a fun system to want to use.

    There is a client app for Pownce now that makes it more Twitter like. IMHO, they need to do away with email notifications, at least as the default setting.

    Brian, Pownce is not the problem. I should clarify that I actually *like* replies on Pownce. It’s just that I actually go to Pownce directly to view these replies and would rather do that than follow them in my email inbox. Pownce allows you to customize your email notifications, I was just too lazy to go change mine, which I’ve now done.

    Facebook seems like it would do at ok job for sending messages, but how do you communicate with people who aren’t on facebook?

    Jim, I can communicate with them other ways. On my blog, in the comments like this. On Pownce. On Zooomr. I love interacting with people on Zipline on Zooomr. If someone knows me at all they know how important Zooomr is to me and they know that they have a better chance of getting me on there even than Facebook. In the groups and forums on Zooomr. By IM of course if I know the person and have time I’ll take a lot more of those. My IM account is on my blog. There are lots of other ways that I like to interact with people even when they are not on Facebook.

  14. Thomas Hawk says:

    Pfft.. you don’t know what you’re missing Thomas. Why I got this interesting email from this nice man in Nigria this morning…

    Eric, that guy’s been trying to get a hold of me for months!

  15. dale says:

    Email isn’t going anywhere.

    Have good spam filtering and stop using those stupid websites and your problems will decrease significantly.

  16. dawn says:

    10. A support question for Zooomr.

    Now, I could go on with the next 90 or so, but I guarantee you that they are equally uncompelling. Now the question for me is, would I rather sit around and read this drivel?

    If I was that person with a support question, I wouldn’t think it was drivel. But that’s just me.

  17. JeffH says:

    The solution to large volumes of junk e-mail is not as simple as some of the commenter’s have stated. Almost always when I buy something on line, I end up getting unsolicited crap ads from that vendor and often others associated with that vendor without my consent. I almost always check the ‘do-not-send-me-ads’ button when it is available. Case in point, I bought something from the Apple store last month and now I get almost daily spam ads from them. I did not ask for these ads. After a period of time, you end up getting 20, 50 , or 100 of these a day. Having to sift through each of them and find the ‘unsubscribe’ instructions is a big waste of time. For someone like Thomas who has a very high public profile, add to this all of the unsolicited ‘press releases’ and other correspondence from people trying to get his attention and you have an unmanageable mess. Maybe if someone at Google is listening, they can come up with a way to improve our e-mail experience through some sort of clever filtering. I still believe there is a place for e-mail. It is certainly not going away anytime soon in the corporate world. There are many instances where public communication is inappropriate or where a ‘paper’ trail of communication is required. e-mail provides this. I’m not sure if any of the present alternatives do.

  18. Rukasu says:

    Email is not dead not even by a long shot. Social networks are the new spam, sad to say. I’ve never used MySpace, I get headaches whenever someone sends me a link to their page.

    My university was among the first to have Facebook a little over 3 years ago, and was/is fine for the college crowd but I am getting pretty close to dropping it altogether.

    With Zombie and vampire invitations…err…attacks?, make a virtual drink for your friends, spend a dollar to give someone a virtual four-leaf clover,etc. Give me a break! We’ve graduated college, let’s move on. FB is becoming so tacky and in terms of layout is becoming the clusterf**k that is myspace all over.

    As a loyal zooomr-ite there are things I like about zipline, I like to see when contacts post pics and I like to see when friends comment and fave my pics through social stream, but I really don’t need to know that you are riding on the subway or are sick in bed that day. There is such a thing as too much information, and to me, is no different than receiving a spam email in my inbox. Maybe there is a way to control zipline so that I only receive photo upload updates. But I think people need to use some discretion when posting useless information to a widespread audience.

    But I will agree with you about the Apple mailings I get just for buying a MacBook Pro…when was that agreement made?

  19. Mike Doeff says:

    I’ve actually received a few e-mail responses from you. I guess I should consider myself one of the lucky ones!

  20. Ludovic says:

    It looks to me like you’re not using email right in the first place. Your spam filter doesn’t seem to work correctly, you get lots of notifications from other services (pownce, zooomr, etc.), you get fan-mail, etc. You should really setup appropriate filters so that whatever’s sitting in your inbox when you open your email is what you really should read. All the rest is filtered out and moved into subfolders (or achived in gmail), so that you can go read them later.

    You wouldn’t drop all your photos in one directory, without any tag or metadata whatsoever, right? It means you need a minimum of discipline to handle your photos in an effective way. Well, it’s the same with email.

    Lifehacker has some good articles about managing your email…

  21. sach says:

    Phasing email out of the work place

    http://tinyurl.com/2acens

  22. exapted says:

    Long Live XMPP and unified messaging. Email is certainly not dead until there is a real standard by which everyone on the web communicates. Facebook is not that. At least it is not anywhere near that right now.

  23. Thiago Silva says:

    I simply never ever answer it unless I can see who it is that is calling on the caller ID *and* I feel like talking to that person right then and there.

    Glad to see I’m not the only one.

  24. Eric says:

    LOL he’s everywhere Thomas!

    Facetiousness aside, I had a few thoughts on personal v professional communications. Email is dead for the former, but not necessarily the latter IMO..

    http://ericgonzalez.wordpress.com/2007/11/15/rip-email-not-so-fast/

  25. exapted says:

    Sorry, but this is mindless!

    Obviously there will eventually be a standard of communication that combines the benefits of IM, text messaging and email. XMPP on a mobile device anyone?

    Do you think SMS is going to outlive email? If so, you are an idiot. If you think social networks are an email replacement, riddle me this: How can I contact someone directly who is not already a member of my proprietary silo? Answer, I CAN’T! I need email to do that! That is because social networks are not yet a standard; if they were a standard, they would probably be use something like XMPP and provide email-like persistence of data, offline messages, just like email!

    Email has many flaws, but its strength is that it stores your messages and is universal. Text messaging and IM are fast, but don’t give you the ability to save your data.

    We’re not all going to communicate on proprietary little silos, it is not even feasible to connect everyone this way!

  26. Anonymous says:

    10. A support question for Zooomr.

    Now, I could go on with the next 90 or so, but I guarantee you that they are equally uncompelling. Now the question for me is, would I rather sit around and read this drivel?

    To echo Dawn‘s sentiment, it’s surprising to hear that the CEO and public face of Zooomr has so little interest in helping out its users.

  27. Ben says:

    I doubt Thomas meant the support question was drivel. It was one meaningful message out of a load of trash. He probably just failed to specify that there was a real person trying to contact him among the clutter. That, or he was just being overly sassy.

    E-mail is still good for attachments, though, and we still need it to sign up for stuff online like Zooomr. I’d say it’s only half dead. Maybe it’ll inspire a retro movement in oddball kids who will send e-mails again. Unlikely.

    ..and for some reason, they send me stuff like #5 all the time. That, and timeshare crap. What a mix.

  28. Mandar says:

    Maybe you just need better “email hygiene” habits :-) Have a separate ‘private email’ address for friends/relatives/coworkers to use. Use a different email address for mailing lists, and yet another address for notifications. Get into the habit of clearing out your inbox once a week.

  29. Dave says:

    I imagine that what he meant was that his email wasn’t the right place for a support question because there are a bunch of support alternatives on zooomr that are better places for those kinds of questions.

  30. Thomas Hawk says:


    To echo Dawn’s sentiment, it’s surprising to hear that the CEO and public face of Zooomr has so little interest in helping out its users.

    I help out Zooomr users every single day. I answer more support emails personally than probably any CEO or any other company… well except maybe Craig Newmark over at craigslist. Support emails are meaningful and it’s a shame that they have to be mixed in with so much other unimportant stuff. Still, I find I also deal with just as many support issues from within Zooomr itself as opposed to email.

  31. Tuan says:

    If you were operating an online business where you have to sell things to actual clients (such as photographic prints and image licenses), maybe you’d feel differently about email ? Or would you pick-up the phone ?

  32. VxJasonxV says:

    “E-mail is still good for attachments, though, and we still need it to sign up for stuff online like Zooomr.”

    E-mail is and always has been TERRIBLE for attachments.
    And you don’t need it for Zooomr, Zooomr allows the use of OpenID (and thank goodness for that).

    There are so many alternatives to confirmation than e-mail alone. Some of these may be better or worse in one’s own opinion (just like e-mail is):
    SMS
    Jabber
    AIM/MSN/Y!/ICQ
    Actual Audio Phone Call providing a Pin or simple audible confirmation.

    There’s probably a billion more, I’m just forgetting :/.

  33. Keven says:

    Ignoring messages on IM is disruptive to my workflow. Ignoring e-mail isn’t, and it doesn’t insult the person trying to contact you like ignoring IMs when you are “available” does.

    If all your friends and business contacts are active on IM, you probably need to broaden your social and business life a bit.

  34. Hello Thomas,

    While I must agree with you on many points, I will have to respectfully disagree. My kids refuse to use their email, opting for MySpace. I prefer Facebook, or Twitter. Ultimately though I do realize that email is not going away for several reasons…

    1. My employer, the U.S. Air Force requires us to use “their” email. They block access to all webmail, social, and photo sharing sites. They even block access to any instant messaging sites. They have recently added access to the Windows Messenger only allowing Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) connections internally.
    I do find it hard to believe that a n organization as security concious as my employer would ever allow communication to go through third party applications that cannot be monitored effectively.

    2. As Eric Gonzolez says, most social networking sites require an email address as your login.

    3. My kids not only refuse email, they also refuse to use instant messaging tools. At some point they are going to have to send files to one another. This is going to either require email or instant messaging. The point being, at some point they will grow out of the newest fad when they get beyond their current circle.

    As one that loves to jump to the newest toy myself, I have to admit that in the not too distant future, there will be a newer toy to go to but email will be around for a long time.

  35. dave says:

    Bravos, Thomas. Well said. The big issues here are respect, trust and attention. It seems the problems are caused too often by those we have white listed. Rock on. P.S. LOVE your photos.

  36. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm… problem is, Facebook, IM, Pownce, etc. all require you to register with an email address.

  37. ilker says:

    LOL @ the last comment.

    Although I want to agree with you and that no one enjoys getting spam (except Eric up there), I have to disagree – either my Gmail spam filter works very well or it doesn’t work well for others.

    In any case, here are my thoughts on this subject.

  38. seems to me like you’ver just a problem with your spam-filter and your email-address being used for signing up to some newsletters and notifications. is it really a big thing to just turn off the notifications, once mark a newsletter as spam and most important: turn on your spam-filter? and also important: do some backups man. loosing 5000+ emails could have also been 5000+ lines of code, text, blogs or pictures of your lovely kids in front of some sunset-scenario…

  39. Well, its 2009, and email lingers on. And its even growing stronger, with the torrent of email expected to only increase over the next few years. Email may never completely die out – its too simple to use, were too used to it – but we can at least reduce the burden on its shoulders. Email is clearly not best for collaborative work (working together on files), and we need to shift to tools which are optimal for these purposes.

    We had recently done a whitepaper on the subject (http://hyperoffice.com/business-email-overload/) which was also covered by ZDNet (http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=18692)