Rumination 50: Will Email Ever Die?

A number of things have come up this year in my feeds that have discussed the history, value and disadvantages of email.

First of all, I watched the movie You’ve Got Mail for the first time. Yes, I know… I left it for a while after its release. This film presented the tool in a way with both caution and hope for the future.

Second, over the past few months, I’ve seen fellow Twitter users voicing their frustration about email and how their messages build up quickly, leading to anxiety in the workplace. How can they ever get through it all?

Third, on the matter of relentless promotional material in inboxes, the recent episode 257 of The Talk Show with John Gruber featured a discussion about how our email clients have become faux web browsers and a kind of ‘non-consensual technology’, which attracts various security risks and breaches. Spam and dodgy services are an unfortunate reality for just about everyone.

It’s the way that email as a communications technology has influenced our social lives and behaviour at work that interests me the most. In each of the roles that I’ve worked, I’ve seen people obsessively check their emails, worrying about losing track of the latest conversation or decision. I don’t think that email was ever intended to be used this way. It’s not really supposed to be a messaging platform for natural, turn-taking conversation. It’s literally what its name means: electronic mail.

Email is not the best tool for modern work and ongoing digital conversations. Instead, applications such as Slack, Yammer and Microsoft Teams offer better workspaces that enable you to communicate, share files and work on projects in a way that is more fluid than the reply-all method of shooting written messages everywhere. Even more casual apps like iMessage are more appropriate.

ABC News published a great article about how to approach your daily deluge of emails and what to do when you return from time away from the office. You should definitely take the time to read it, as each of the quoted contributors suggest strategies such as bulk-deleting unimportant emails that arrived whilst you were away and rewording your auto-reply to have more personality. There is also caution about the use of tools like Slack, which I mentioned above, as over-reliance on them can lead to similar problems or even a reduction in face-to-face communication between colleagues. I think that’s a fair argument, unless you work remotely all the time.

My own system is simple: if I’m at work and I’m writing something that is to be sent within the organisation, I will share it and attach any necessary files with a chat app, unless otherwise instructed. If it’s external or part of my personal life and there’s no other way to get in touch with someone reliably, then I will use email. If emails are important, then I keep them. If they’re not, then I delete them. When I’m on holiday, I remove my email account from my iPhone entirely, so that I’m not tempted to check it or accidentally stumble on something with the wrong tap of a button.

My biggest suggestion, however, regards the use of app-icon badges and lock-screen notifications. It’s also very simple: don’t use them. If you have your work email on your personal smartphone, do not enable such notifications for that account. If you must have some form of reminder or easy access, leave notifications enabled in your notification centre or equivalent pull-down pane, so that you can check them with intention.

So much of the anxiety in our daily lives comes from our devices flashing a number of useless things in our faces. If something is an emergency at work and someone needs to get in contact with you, they will send you a message in a chat app, flick a text or (dare I even suggest?) call you on the phone. Furthermore, if you’re at work, your email client is going to be open in front of you anyway.

Our smartphones and tablets are meant to be tools of creativity, productivity and daily empowerment, not vortices of distraction, depression and despair. Email will probably never die… but that is a good thing. Email offers us a way to receive the information that is important to us and get in touch with people around the world. It’s a kind of standard and just needs to be used moderately and appropriately.

If we choose to have email access on our portable devices, like the social networks that have taken over so many other aspects of our lives, then let’s be deliberate in the way that we use it.

Rumination 49: Centring Is Overrated

Recently, I noticed that popular job site Indeed has a real issue with centring certain elements of its website. Two major ones it’s homepage appear strangely regardless of which size of device you’re using to view it.

In this example, the Indeed logo is slightly higher than the search field and the ‘Find Jobs’ button is slightly lower than the search field. What you end up with is a really strange, super-long staircase that descends from left to right.

In this second example, the ‘Upload Your Resume’ button is slightly left-of-centre and not aligned with the call-to-action above. (Let’s not forget the fact that it should really be spelt as ‘résumé’, although perhaps I’m becoming too much of a pedant here.)

Why do I consider this worth writing about? So much of modern life is experienced through devices like smartphones, tablets and laptop computers. Whether it’s applying for a job, completing a tax return, editing family photos or composing a major film score.

The world is a beautiful place and if we are to spend so much of our time staring at displays instead, the interfaces with which we interact should be beautiful and thoughtful too. I’m just one guy online and I’m sure that there are numerous things on my site that aren’t perfect—a company as successful as Indeed can afford to spend the time and resources making its site look and perform as it should.

Rumination No. 48: Republic of Sydney

I stumbled upon this hilarious article by The Betoota Advocate about a nationwide study that confirmed:

the long-held belief amongst many, that the Republic of Sydney is, in fact, the worst city in Australia, with only one of its suburbs making it into the Top 100 Most Liveable Suburbs in the country.

If you’re unfamiliar with The Betoota Advocate, it’s a satirical news website that focuses on Australian culture and politics. Furthermore, if you’re unfamiliar with my home town of Wollongong, it is in fact its own regional city, being the third-largest city in the state of New South Wales, behind Sydney and Newcastle. Some even joke that the the initialism ‘NSW’ stands for ‘Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong’ rather than ‘New South Wales’.

Later in the article, a most amusing reason was given for why this key finding was uncovered by the supposed survey:

When asked why they didn’t categorise Wollongong as it’s [sic] own stand-alone city, the researcher explained that they just needed to find something positive to say about Sydney.

I’ve long enjoyed The Betoota Advocate but the two excerpts above stand out to me as some of its best work. When I first found the article online and saw its headline, I naturally assumed that Wollongong was the butt of the joke. When you read it, the author, Hussey, spares no time in mocking the ‘suburb’ of Wollongong and its unfortunate cultural institutions: the North Gong Hotel and Chicko’s, a chicken shop that is labelled an ‘affront to modern health’.

The real butt of the joke here is Sydney, which has been deemed so unlikeable and large that it has become its own republic.

I once worked in Sydney but now that I work in its ‘most liveable suburb’, I only ever visit on occasional weekends for shows, special occasions or planned day-trips. What I have noticed over time is Sydney’s transformation into a bloated mini-country all of its own. Sure, it’s great to visit Circular Quay, Darling Harbour and the newer Barangaroo development, but if you venture much further beyond the CBD, you realise just how far the place sprawls, with a somewhat confusing web of infrastructure and public transport.

Sydney has become so large that I imagine that it is difficult for some Sydneysiders to even imagine other cities beyond their home. As a resident of Wollongong, which is only an 80-minute drive away from Sydney CBD, I have met Sydney people who have said that they’ve never once visited Wollongong. Not visiting regularly is understandable for practical reasons, as Sydney hosts the majority of the job market and those who live there are unlikely to commute out of the city (as residents of Newcastle and Wollongong must often do)… but never? That’s surprising.

Socioculturally and politically, I find this all to be a little concerning. With the long-established view that policy and news-reporting favour the east coast of Australia, what happens to the fabric of our society and the existing divide between city and country, when some Sydneysiders can barely be bothered to regard or visit major regional centres beyond their own urban bubble?