When Email Goes Away

The Buzz

Email has long been dead and buried.  It is as dead as the notebook and pen.  I saw this info-graphic last week and questioned when email and communication were somehow ripped apart by collaboration technologies.

There is a discussion around email that I have heard for years around the death of email.  It doesn’t make any sense to me considering so many people still depend on email and use it on a daily basis for work and personal business.  There are other technologies introduced that are different but do I think that they are better.. short answer is “no.”

If there were a better technology that was more effective for personal, team and enterprise knowledge and collaboration, it has yet to be introduced to the masses.   Text does not replace email, text is text and I find that in text messages because the lines are blurred, it is very easy to send an unprofessional message.   It is also hard to understand context in text.  There is a place for text but it isn’t a replacement.

There are a lot of good tools out there that do different things and that are good at what they do but they aren’t email and they aren’t replacing email.   I consider that all of these technologies are just adding more to the madness instead of solving a problem or THE problem of email.

I think back to a time when I would go to a meeting with a notebook and a pen.  I would write stuff down and then go back to my work area and sort through whatever I needed to organize or keep.  Today,  when I go to a meeting there are cell phones, tablets, laptops and …. notebooks and pens.     I hear all about the millennial generation and the way they work but the funny part of it to me is when I see 20+ somethings come to meetings, they also come with notebooks along with all the other technologies.

The funniest part of it all is that we try to replace the notebook with electronic devices that we can write on but we still bring the notebooks.  I think the same thing applies with email.  We are bringing all this extra stuff to the table but at the end of the day someone is going to send an email.

If you have recently looked for a job, you may have experienced sending or receiving and email to a recruiter, then uploading a resume to an hr system, then sending an email to someone else with your resume in it and then having emails go back and forth about your resume or arrangements for your job interview.   This is one example of many that shows how people and behaviors override what makes sense in a logical order of operations.

Email is Here

Here is my advice to all of the folks planning on ditching email for something better.  Even if you take email away somehow, people will still use it.  If you don’t use email, that is fine, it like a fruitless boycott of a known and working technological capability that changed the world.   If you are thinking that email will go away..  check back with me in a few years and send me a note in whatever the popular non email technology is at the time to tell me I was wrong.    Otherwise, I would plan on ways to realize the benefits of email and look for ways to make it easier for email to blend and interoperate with other organizational technologies so that we aren’t doing another 10 things to be more effective and efficient in collaboration.


  1. Fascinating depiction of the information worker’s evolution. The question I have for you is: where do we find “silence” and “separation” from the anytime, anywhere ambiance of such a lifestyle?

    Seems to me that this sort of worker needs a “counter” for all their collaboration channels, so that one could account for as well as bill the appropriate recipient of one’s knowledge management experience and expertise!

    I’ve discovered an app that does this for my travel while in any vehicle–MileIQ–that automatically computes every trip my iPhone takes with me. It then allows me, with a single swipe, to log it as “personal” or “business”. At the end of the day/week, I can further define those categories for specific clients or taxable categories, i.e. charity. It then creates a monthly and yearly spreadsheet that can be submitted for reimbursement. Seems like if we had something like this to connect our collaboration tools, we’d be able to document our telework as well as our time with clients.

    Otherwise…we’ve become slaves to “constant contact!”


  2. Very well written Mr. Cohen. I for one am constantly amazed at the Millennials who work for me believing themselves at the top of the knowledge chain generationally, while I constantly outsmart them and use the phrase “Google it” when them don’t get my meaning. For example in line with Holy Week, “Maundy” as in Maundy Thursday. In my business due to the classification issue, they cannot use their devices so paper and pencil – which they fine primitive at best – is the norm in meetings.

    E-mail will survive at least till us 77 million Baby Boomers die out. For some reason our 92 million Millennial children just don’t get that yet.

    BTW see this: http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/outlook/millennials/index.html?cid=PS_01_18_07_00_00_15_01

    We celebrated the Seder Meal last night at church which is always very moving for me as the connection theologically to our older Jewish roots is reaffirmed. Blessed Passover and Easter to you and your lovely family.

    Mr. Shahayda


  3. I agree, but don’t in a way. The company I just joined uses Salesforce and Chatter heavily. There are a lot of folks who do still use email, but I was actually yelled at by my boss when I sent him an email my first week. I said, “I sent that […] over to you.” He checked Chatter and said, “No you didn’t.” When I told him I had emailed it, he said: “NOOO! NO EMAIL!”

    It’s possible to work without email. It’s not that something better hasn’t come along; it’s that people refuse to change because these collaborative tools are very open and very transparent. (The way we’re using Salesforce is actually so transparent that it even scares *me* at times!)

    We need to fight through the fear and learn to be more open. To be unafraid to say something ‘wrong’ in front of the whole organization. Email will never go away entirely, but we should be taking strides to limit its use not because it doesn’t ‘work’, but because those business conversations shouldn’t be hidden behind cloak and shadows.


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