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Comment: Whatever happened to email?

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Email_logo“I was just replying to your email,” says the person at the other end of the phone. And we can’t help thinking, “Really?”

The promise of quicker communications offered by email seems to have been left behind somewhere along the way. Your message may now languish in an Inbox indefinitely these days, rather than being picked up immediately and acted upon by the people at the other end.

And yet, email promised so much. Sending a written message meant it couldn’t be ignored, as it sat in the Inbox as a reminder. In comparison to a phone call that can be quickly forgotten, it was indelible proof that something still needed to be done. The written form also meant that clear instructions could be outlined, with less chance of a mix up. And since a response could be archived as proof that the electronic conversation had really taken place, it was less likely that people would try and back out in the same way as they might with verbal agreements.

So what happened? Unfortunately, these days email is no more reliable than posting a letter in a post box. You know it went in there, but if the recipient claims not to have it or says it hasn’t turned up yet, you can’t know for sure either way. When you do follow up and question why you haven’t heard back, you’re as likely to hear that it went into the spam filter than hear the truth that they simply hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

Another by-product of email’s faceless contact is that we seem to have fostered a society where picking up the phone is a lost talent. When asked why an important piece of information still hasn’t arrived, the reply will often be, “Well, I’ve emailed them three times this week and they’re not getting back to me.” What’s the cut-off point? Eight, emails? Nine? Ten? At what point does the emailer finally pick up the telephone handset so they can receive that modern day lie once more: “I was just replying to your email.”