Hooked on e-mail

May 07, 2012

“Cannot find the server” has become a phrase I dread. I currently run four main e-mail addresses: a personal one for friends; my personal business account; and two for established business here in Muscat where I work. Added to these is my Apex account and a special one I have for Facebook, so that the messages there don’t clog up my other inboxes.

I use a BlackBerry and have a special icon for each, so that I can tell quickly where messages are coming from. I also have BlackBerry messenger, and WhatsApp for BlackBerry so that I can link in with my iPhone friends. I use Webmail so that I can get all my messages wherever I am, even out of the office.

This does all sound like messaging overload. Last Wednesday I woke up to find 195 new e-mails on my BlackBerry, and on arrival at the office, my PC announced to me that my inbox contained 1,922 new e-mails. Something was amiss, apparently a glitch with Microsoft was duplicating already received e-mails, but how could I be sure I hadn’t missed an important one from my best friend or client?

I remember how, in 2001, I started to properly embrace e-mail. I set up a new business and this form of information sharing helped response time, efficiency, both external and internal communication, filing, and kept our overhead in control.

Now it is hard to imagine a world without it – we send presentations and designs around the world with the flick of a button. I am now primarily in the consulting business, where being able to respond quickly is key. But it is hard to get away from e-mail, sometimes it seems to demand so much of my time.

I was reading an article in The Week, a UK based magazine. In it, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, is quoted in 2010 as saying that “High school kids don’t use e-mail.” ComScore, a US based research firm, noted that, in 2011, there was a 59 per cent decrease in the use of Internet-based e-mail services (like Gmail and Hotmail) by 12 to 17 year olds, an 18 per cent decline among 25 to 35 year olds, and an 8 per cent fall for those aged 35 to 44.

Europe’s largest IT company, Atos Origin from France, intends to scrap internal e-mails by 2013, using instant messaging and face-to-face instead. The idea of instant messaging in the workplace is that it is simpler, quicker and more responsive than e-mail. Users can see when a colleague is on-line and communicate in trails of dialogue.

There are an estimated 3bn e-mail accounts in the world, with Facebook having 20 per cent of them, and Twitter 5.5 per cent. E-mail is fundamentally a service that is universally compatible, which is critical, and allows documents to be sent to a multitude of recipients easily. There is, however, no doubt that other newer ways of networking will become more important in the next few years.

Here in Oman, I am fairly certain that face-to-face communication is still of major importance and this is to be admired. Secondly, nearly every Omani is permanently on the phone, and it is “good to talk” – except when driving of course. The introduction of e-mail here still has some progress to make, with some business and government departments only just coming on stream. Some have been slow to modernise.

For me, I am going to try harder to recognise that e-mails are “asynchronatic” – in other words, as a recipient I can choose when to open the message sent to me. I need to control this better. And today I am going to delete the 1,922 messages, and hope for the best. If I haven’t replied to an e-mail you have sent me, please re-send!

Nick lives and works in Muscat and the views expressed in this column are entirely his own. You can e-mail Nick at nick.smith@apexmedia.co.om