We all have our addictions. I confess. Mine is e-mail. I still remember the excitement of sending my first MCIMail message more than a decade ago. Back then it was cool to have an e-mail address on your business card.
E-mail quickly became my preferred method of communication with coworkers. My mantra: 24/7/365. I now admit that I even once adjusted my computer’s clock to time-stamp an outgoing e-mail for 2:30 a.m. (that e-mail was tactically sent to “wake up” a lethargic salesperson). Coworkers dreaded my cross-country flights. They knew the inevitable flood of “gbeach” e-mails would be electronically unleashed upon touchdown in San Francisco, Los Angeles or Seattle.
Family vacations weren’t exempt either. My secret was to get up at the crack of dawn to get my digital fix. Oh boy, was I ever addicted!
My epiphany came around May 2000. I was wrestling with some issue or other at CIO headquarters when Lisa Brown, vice president of sales for CIO.com, came into my office with this sage advice: “Gary, why don’t you think twice before you fire up the ’compose new message’ box? Ask yourself, Is what you want to say more appropriate for a telephone call, a face-to-face meeting or e-mail?”
She was right, and I knew it.
And then something else happened. I started to notice a slow but steady increase in the amount of unsolicited e-mail showing up in my inbox. Particularly on weekends. E-mail spam really got out of control. Not too long ago my e-mail was 80 percent meaningful and 20 percent junk. Now, 80 percent is junk.
What can you do to stop it? Here are a few tips: Think before your send. Is another communications medium more appropriate? Make the subject line of e-mail you do send as specific as possible. More of your e-mails will be opened. And answered. Discourage overuse of “cc:” e-mails and group messages in your company or department. Respond only to the sender. Opt in and share your e-mail address only with sites you trust implicitly. And consider deploying some of the powerful e-mail filters.
Another thought: I have seen how my kids use instant messaging technology to build buddy lists. For me, the most powerful aspect of this technology is that it allows a user to see if designated coworkers are actually online before—or as—a message is sent. I recently attended a demonstration of Lotus’s SameTime instant messaging product and was duly impressed.
Do I still abuse e-mail? Yes. But I am getting better. E-mail has become significantly less useful to me. While I proudly handed out my MCIMail address to anyone who wanted it in the early ’90s, I am now much more protective (though I continue to share it with more than 300,000 readers of CIO in this column twice a month!).
Some say e-mail is still the killer application. From where I sit, they are dead wrong. The killer application is dying.