it may be faster and easier to just use email
May 12, 2021 3:41 PM   Subscribe is a small site with a big opinion. It asks us to reconsider the myriad services we rely on for productivity and instead just use email. “The premise of this site is that often just using email allows us to be more efficient, effective, and focused, even when offline.” writes Lawrence (the site’s author). Though the site has just started, dozens of future posts are promised. The titles “How to have a group discussion by email that beats the one done in Slack” and “How to be less annoying to your friends and family by email” give hints about the tenor of posts.
posted by Monochrome (55 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
A blog post on a similar theme, Email vs. Tool du Jour, is just as vociferous in its support, if not more so.

Personally I wonder if these authors are overstating the case. However, email has definitely been slept on: the crowd has gone 😍 over new messaging apps with easy emoji reactions.
posted by Monochrome at 3:42 PM on May 12, 2021

email? let me install a messenger for that real quick.
posted by bigendian at 3:47 PM on May 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

Teams has been a net gain for my group. Indeed it's made my email kind of useful again, down from 200+ a day (largely short, which the chat replaces nicely) to 30-40 of which I really need to see a couple dozen. I've found email really crushing for the past few years. Moving to Teams has given a neat bit of perspective on that.

So I guess i disagree? I kind of like the internal chat/external email split.
posted by bonehead at 4:01 PM on May 12, 2021 [12 favorites]

I'm amenable to the concept here, though how frequently the author flips between
"Want to do X? Well, it might suck on email, but it's worse on these other services",
"If you have trouble doing X, either you have the wrong tool (and the right tool might be one I've spent another section decrying), or you might just suck as a user. get gud", and
"sure, this particular experience isn't great. But a tool could hypothetically exist to let you do that. And isn't that better than getting locked in?"

does give me pause. It reminds me of all of the "I don't get why people pay for Slack or Discord, when IRC with the right set of plugins might approximate half of it (except for the UI, but I don't get why polished UI matters), or XMPP with the right other set of incompatible extensions could theoretically cover it (whether or not said plugins exist is another story)" gripes over the past decade or so.
posted by CrystalDave at 4:03 PM on May 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

(which is to say, these days I'm more interested in "Hey, stop using that. Use this thing!" arguments that try to meet readers at what they desire & value more than ones which go "Why would you even care about reactji?")
posted by CrystalDave at 4:07 PM on May 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

I want everything in email because I want everything to be on record. Your Teams messages, phone calls, and hallway conversations are nice and everything, but if you want me to do something for you you better email it to me, because if it comes to it I want to be able to forward that email back to you down the road.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:10 PM on May 12, 2021 [53 favorites]

Rule of threes. If you need more than three exchanges in your synchronous text channel of choice to sort something out, write some email. If you need more than three emails to answer a question, book a video call. In the Lost Before, the next step would have been if it takes more than three calls to settle a question, somebody needs to get on a plane.
posted by mhoye at 4:12 PM on May 12, 2021 [12 favorites]

A thing I didn't understand before I used it: reactions have replaced a LOT of chatter. A quick OK is a thumbs up. A positive vote for a proposed meeting time, thumbs up. A coo over a new puppy, a heart. Commiseration, a sad face.

Since it happens at the message that's being reacted to, it doesn't add much clutter at all. And what would have been a small storm of emails previously is a neat bunch of reaction emoji.
posted by bonehead at 4:13 PM on May 12, 2021 [16 favorites]

Oh God NO please just use Slack, I am not spending my precious time on Earth on some house-of-cards email optimization, please just use a tool that tags me into a thread only when necessary.


As someone who has a specialized task area for my clients, monitoring hundreds of group email threads was pure hell before Slack came along.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 4:21 PM on May 12, 2021 [9 favorites]

Email is for marketing, fundraising, mass communication, and communicating with outsiders. Existing clients know to find me 1:1 on Slack.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 4:23 PM on May 12, 2021

The true holy war will be in twenty years, when people will be arguing whether Blippo or Freem is the better tool for communication, with a small Just Use Slack and an even smaller Just Use Email contingent holding out against the Microblogs Forever! crowd.
posted by Going To Maine at 4:27 PM on May 12, 2021 [6 favorites]

The first thing that fires up in the morning when I turn on my work PC is the Teams chat from March 2020, when my office of a very wide age range tried and failed to work using anything but our proven combo of email, a huge file server, and MS word. The last message says ‘can everyone see this message’. As soon as it was lawful to get us back in the office our bosses had us back in.

Email, unlike computers, works.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:28 PM on May 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

I am starting to get used to Teams, oh wait no sorry this is a Zoom call and chat, but let me quickly respond to this Skype message first while I'm waiting for the WebEx client to update, and then I'll get on either the BlueJeans meeting or the Google Meet, or if the text message link to the Amazon Chime still works then we'll do that unless it's that vendor who uses GoToMeeting. If you need instructions it's in the Slack, or possibly the Confluence or Yammer, or did we migrate that already to the FB Workplace or the O365 SharePoint?

*cries silent consulting tears in the corner after being made to use almost every collaboration tool under the sun daily for different clients, and god help any of you involved in M&A who have to use some law firm's random M&A portal all day *
posted by inflatablekiwi at 4:28 PM on May 12, 2021 [30 favorites]

I wish so much that if I am communicating with a business via email and ask them to respond via email because some of us have jobs where we cannot take phone calls, that they would just email me back. No, it’s always an email that says “call us!” Dentists’ offices, I am looking at you, if you don’t want to communicate via email, don’t put an address on the site.
posted by corey flood at 4:29 PM on May 12, 2021 [16 favorites]

I mean try using Slack or some microblog bespoke solution when your office has a bunch of older managers who grab the nearest young person or woman to ask them ‘how do I print’ and ‘what’s my password’
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:30 PM on May 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

I'll carve a stone tablet with my teeth before I pick up the phone. NO PHONE CALLS. EVER.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:35 PM on May 12, 2021 [14 favorites]

Skype is actually the most interesting thing because it... just seems to have persisted? hangouts were deemed uncool and beaten by zoom, discord has the gamers, but skype just... is.
posted by Going To Maine at 4:36 PM on May 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Blippo or Freem

One thing they do get right, email will still exist in that dark future that is only war. Of that I am sure. When we go to the stars, our long descendants will indeed still wonder what bcc stands for, and why all the datestamps reference 1970.
posted by bonehead at 4:41 PM on May 12, 2021 [9 favorites]

I use Slack to communicate with friend groups, and god help you if you ever have to use Cisco's Jabber to communicate with cow-orkers.* That said, I am hugely on Team Email for basically everything . For work, I can flag things that need attention and add them to my to-do queue, and I also have an easy-to-find record of work emails for CYA purposes. For friends, I can answer emails at my leisure with no expectation of a fast response. Email just works, does literally everything an IM client can do (minus quite emoji responses, alas), and has so many added benefits.

Again, I use Slack for friend chats, and it really does excel at that. But, I just don't see the utility of a chat over emails for most work tasks. I can see having a work Slack for idle chatting, but the intersection between chatting and work has never really come up in my experience.

* I have no idea why anybody created an IM client that doesn't support copy/paste, doesn't automatically focus to the compose box on click, and has the most random collection of ugly-ass emoji, but they should be in prison.
posted by General Malaise at 4:42 PM on May 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

please just use a tool that tags me into a thread only when necessary.

Based on the frequency with which I've seen Slack conversations that I didn't need to be a part of, I'd guess the key ingredient here is less Slack and more people who are attentive to detail including wise judgment about who needs to be part of a conversation.

The basic problem with all communication channels is that they're selective (maybe exclusive, even) and focused when they're new, and therefore are clearer avenues for your attention, which feels great and productive. In an attention economy, though, any clear avenue for your attention becomes something of higher value to claim access to. But as other parties gain access to it, it becomes a cluttered avenue for your attention, and requires management strategies and maybe even an arms race between you and actors who care more about commandeering your attention (whether that's internal management or external marketers) than courteously negotiating it. Eventually, you may even find abandoning it is preferable to managing it, and start the cycle elsewhere anew...

I don't see a lot of advantages to Slack (or as some call it "Discord for Boomers"), but if there's a key one I suspect it comes from that. Both Slack and email are about as synchronous or asynchronous as you want them to be. Both are pretty searchable. Email's a bit easier to thread by subject, opinions on whether that's good vary but are subjective (heh) anyway. Slack's main advantage appears to be that it's younger and therefore less discovered attention-country.
posted by weston at 4:54 PM on May 12, 2021 [5 favorites]

Flow is law. Synchronous communication breaks flow.

If you treat asynchronous communication as though it were synchronous (by going off on one when you don't get a response in a smallish number of minutes) you are seriously Doing It Wrong.

There are _vanishingly_ few things in the world that both require an immediate, interactive response and where said response isn't from one or more of the emergency services.
posted by sourcequench at 5:03 PM on May 12, 2021 [11 favorites]

I like email because it leaves an audit trail. It is also ubiquitous across all platforms. Email plus some LISTSERV clone can be quite functional...
posted by jim in austin at 5:07 PM on May 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

I like Slack and Teams because I can completely ignore them. I mean, I ignore email too, but Slack and Teams are great if you never look at them.
posted by scruss at 5:24 PM on May 12, 2021 [13 favorites]

Flow is law. Synchronous communication breaks flow.

More practically, I think I hate email because it is nothing but guilt over messages unanswered. To check my email is to lash myself over failures to respond. I respect the idea of dedicated blocks of time for checking mail, and often use them, but they are unquestionably the most miserable portions of my life. A chat message, while it can certainly break my flow when it arrives, is at least brief and guilt free.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:26 PM on May 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

The ideal email, in other words, is a subject line that conveys the essential meaning and a body that provides a reference audit trail that can be treated as tl;dr.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:28 PM on May 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

It would be nice if people would stop sending so many messages, whatever the format. If they would just ask, is this important? Is this worth interrupting my coworkers' work? Is this worth breaking their concentration? The modern workplace is so destructive to concentration. A beautiful dream! But lots of people's job is, seemingly, to just send emails all day.
posted by thelonius at 5:37 PM on May 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

I miss Trillian and ICQ, and otherwise being able to have basically any/all instant message protocols in one place.

As it is now I have like 4-5 different comms clients and I barely even do anything. If it's not slack it's Telegram. If it's not Telegram is signal. If it's not those then it's SMS and Google Voice, which much to my annoyance they finally deprecated and removed from Hangouts/Chat integration in gmail and now I have to have yet another god damn window open and monitor.

For fuck's sake it even makes me miss IRC.
posted by loquacious at 6:08 PM on May 12, 2021 [5 favorites]

Flow is law. Synchronous communication breaks flow.

Sorta, but OTOH when someone's like "It doesn't work" and I'm trying to figure out why, I can either treat email like synchronous communication, and hope that they do too, even though it's bad at that and there's no cultural expectation for it, or I can spend like 5 days going back and forth trying to figure out what they mean and what's happening, or I can spend like two and a half hours writing them a flow chart as an answer.

Or we can just hash it out on Slack in like 10 minutes
posted by aubilenon at 6:15 PM on May 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best, simplest, quick thing you can do for your email inbox: create a label called "To Me" for any email that is sent to your actual email, and not some group of which you're a member. Then create a filter that says "anything not labeled "To Me," send to a folder called Not To Me. Keep everything with your To Me label in your inbox.

Now once a day/week you can go look at your Not To Me folder and see if there's anything important in there, but your inbox has only stuff where people are actually talking directly to you.
posted by nushustu at 6:23 PM on May 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

I'm all for email; I love it to death.

But I like IM, in various forms, as well. We couldn't have gotten 20 people together, working remotely, to solve the system issues we've had the last couple of days via email. Zoom was perfect; Skype is so flaky these days that it might not have worked at all. (I still remember the first time I was on a conference call, 25 or so years ago; it was a weird and disorienting experience.)

On the personal level, two of the people I talk or correspond with most in the world don't ever use text messaging (they never have their phones on). My sister and I, working together to manage my mother's life as it approaches its end, both hate talking on the phone and would never get anything done if not by text message.

If you want to be sure to get my attention, email me.
posted by lhauser at 6:31 PM on May 12, 2021

Huh. Usually count myself with the skeptics but I’ve really enjoyed the move to more chat. Persistent chat rooms are great for records, using a thumbs up instead of a reply saves on clutter, and it threads everything by default. I see email as an endless slog of searching and filtering. It’s the first thing on my desktop that I’d like to kill. Then again, I often remind my colleagues that thanks to OS Unicode support they can put emojis in windows file names so maybe my judgement is suspect...
posted by q*ben at 6:38 PM on May 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Oh God NO please just use Slack

Ok, sure, I'll look up how to install that, or leave a tab open, but if you really need to send me a string of emojis I'll probably see it first in an email. The site is sort of lame, but todo apps or yellow sticky apps really don't work for me so when I have a todo list (not often) I send myself an email. I heard a reference I wanted to follow up, is there an app, too long to install anyway, sent myself... For shopping lists I just leave a draft, the UI experience of switching to drafts in the store, scrolling down, is not optimal but it works.

But yeah, if I was on a team and all the work was done on slack I'd install it, or messenger or irc or whatever.
posted by sammyo at 7:22 PM on May 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I wish I could get my colleagues to drop into Teams chat for quick notes to each other. Then again, it would be harder to ignore.

Meanwhile Cal "Deep Work" Newport argues that email is the beast spoken of in the book of Revelations. Spoiler: He likes Trello.

I have a hoarding personality so I send all articles to
posted by mecran01 at 8:19 PM on May 12, 2021

I've had problems communicating with several animation student potential hires because they didn’t ever seem to respond to messages within a reasonable timeframe. The issue seemed to be that they were only checking their email with a browser periodically, rather than having it pushed to their phones. They thought of email as being something like posted mail.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:53 PM on May 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm all for replacing bespoke centralized walled-garden apps with decentralized systems, but that doesn't mean I'm going to start emailing my artist friends instead of hanging out with them on Discord.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 9:04 PM on May 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

But can we agree that if you absolutely need to be as efficient as possible in your messaging, then nothing beats (on Windows AD domains from a bygone era):
net send * /domain:CorpDomain “Skipping out to the pub early - don’t tell the boss!”
Leaving your laptop unlocked and unattended anywhere near our 6th floor security testing lab at {Big Four accounting company} back in Wellington was not a mistake you made twice.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 9:23 PM on May 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

The problem with having an email setup that lets you use email like Slack is that you have to configure this for everyone at your company, or else you get an email inbox with unread messages in the thousands. I've tried to drive Slack adoption before at a company plagued by email, and saw some takeup, but my current job uses it as a primary communication tool and email is almost entirely there for GitHub status messages. I far prefer it. (You could probably build an IRC client to do what Slack does, but the modes of interaction are fundamentally different so you'd have to add on a lot of features - the persistent history, the reactions, the easy group DMs.)

Also, Slack is literally named after its ability to surface messages: Single Location for All Common Knowledge. It is deeply ironic that some call it "Discord for Boomers" because Slack was actually a video game company trying to make a wholesome MMO that pivoted when the game failed.
posted by Merus at 10:37 PM on May 12, 2021

Email is the best. Chat and slack like stuff drives me crazy. I usually reply to chat messages over email, and try to drive everything onto email as much as possible.
posted by thefoxgod at 10:41 PM on May 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

I am not in the business world but I feel this in my parental core.

Lately it seems like every activity wants to use its own app for scheduling/messaging/enrollments.

I'm not willing to install half a dozen half-baked apps, all of which want every permission under the sun (sorry, not giving a soccer app access to my precise location) and want to pop notifications incessantly.
And even if I were, half of them assume you have the latest iphone or android and won't run on my 7 year old phone anyway.

Meanwhile, I had to supply an email to sign up in the first place, so you already have a way to contact me if a schedule changes, I can check email on my phone with the stock app already installed and I don't have to give up any privacy to do it.
posted by madajb at 10:52 PM on May 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

A chat message, while it can certainly break my flow when it arrives, is at least brief and guilt free

This is interesting because I'm the exact opposite. Chat, especially the kind with read receipts (and the one at work cannot be disabled by user) is extremely guilt/stress inducing. Email being asynchronous means I can respond on my own time, whereas chat has much more expectation of immediate response.

[In practice, this means I often avoid reading the chat at all, which makes it even more pointless as a communication tool]
posted by thefoxgod at 10:53 PM on May 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

email - slack :: internet - facebook

Like, I do not understand this thread's context with that kind of specificity.

general tool - company branded tool
posted by filtergik at 4:08 AM on May 13, 2021

I don't blame the blog owner for trying, but no thanks.

Via email where I work, I mostly receive meeting invitations and updates from various internal tools. All of which are duplicated in Slack, with its integrations with Google Calendar, Jira, Github etc. We're limited in which Slack integrations we can use because my company doesn't want a lot of its proprietary stuff going through Slack's or other third parties' servers unless we have a signed contract with them, but I could absolutely get all of my work done without looking at my Gmail inbox.

That said, Slack where I work with more than 40K other users features a channel mystifyingly called #help-slack where first-timers and non-first-timers alike pop in and ask questions about... not Slack. And the questions that are actually about Slack have usually already been asked and answered multiple times on any given day.

If I were a Slack admin where I worked, I'd populate @slackbot with some periodic reminders.
1. Scroll up.
2. What did you try that didn't work? Was it nothing? Did you try nothing and then ask your question? JFC.
posted by emelenjr at 5:30 AM on May 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I strongly prefer email to Slack or phone calls:

- Email gives me time to think over a response or to postpone a response temporarily if I'm in the middle of something else.

- Slack (or Teams) messages demand an immediate response.

- Phone calls demand an immediate response and require me to think in real-time, since silence is not tolerated on the phone.

However, I have come to realize that my preference for email is a personal preference (I'm a technical writer by trade). Many many people overload when faced with anything more than a sentence or two in an email message, and strongly prefer face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) discussions. Sigh.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 6:49 AM on May 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'll carve a stone tablet with my teeth before I pick up the phone. NO PHONE CALLS. EVER.

PREACH. Fortunately no one ever calls me these days. I do deal with one vendor, though, whose support guy is very positive and helpful, but whose first instinct in every situation is "Can we jump on a quick video call about this?". No. NO. You fuck right off back to Textland and stay there unless something is on fire.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:51 AM on May 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

I don't get why people pay for Slack or Discord

ultimately I started paying for Discord so I could emoji-respond with tiny doofy pictures of Tim Rogers' Pomeranian in any server; this is a great example of why no one should give me money
posted by taquito sunrise at 9:08 AM on May 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

I'm an executive assistant and my Teams status is 'if this is a calendar request, send it in email' because I get about 400 Teams chats a day, and so far I have no way to export a task list from there. I need a way to tick a line in a chat so it adds just that line to my tasks. Email: I flag the email. I complete over 100 deliverables on an average day and am held accountable to a near-immediate SLA on all of them. I need the tracking email provides and chitterchat clients don't.
posted by taterpie at 9:19 AM on May 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

Am I alone in finding email a jumbled mess of hot garbage, spam and noise. I hate email. It is an unstructured asynchronous medium and every time Google or Microsoft update GMAIL and Outlook it somehow gets worse. Do not use email. We need to let email go like Usenet, ntalk, finger and AOL Instant Messenger.
posted by interogative mood at 12:16 PM on May 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Jesus, give me asynch. You have no right to my immediate time unless you're my boss.
posted by taterpie at 12:21 PM on May 13, 2021 [7 favorites]

Email shop here. We use teams 100% for the conference-call feature. Nobody uses the text chat. Nobody.

We might have converted our group text emergency notification system to teams chat, but our teams server kicks you out if you've been idle for 18 hours so you end up missing important messages when you least expect it. (We're a 24/7 organization.) And "idle" means you haven't personally sent a message yourself, you can't just monitor or wait to be tagged. Stupid, not worth the small hassle of remembering to log out and back in twice a day when group text can fulfill the same function without people needing to even sign up.
posted by ctmf at 2:01 PM on May 13, 2021

email IRC - slack :: internet - facebook
posted by Going To Maine at 2:08 PM on May 13, 2021

Chat, especially the kind with read receipts

Read receipts are evil and should be destroyed.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:10 PM on May 13, 2021 [8 favorites]

Taterpie- that is supposed to a new Teams feature but AFAIK it's not rolled out to my workplace yet? - How to create a task from a chat post
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:26 PM on May 13, 2021

Hate for the phone makes me sad and confused. I can get so much done over the phone that I can't get done in a text medium. (I'm 50, an introvert with good coping skills, and it took me years to figure out how to make the phone work for me...but now i am effed when I have to deal with someone who isn't phone competent)

and I am realizing as I read this thread that one of the powers of the phone for me is that I use it asynchronously. My standing rule with my own staff is, unless it's an emergency or a dead simple question with a 5-word-or-less answer, get a call on our calendars with a brief explanation of what you need. Then I can read the item, run a background process in my brain, and have a strong fighting chance at a brief but productive discussion when we do get on the call.

the thing that is suddenly working against me now is I have started putting one and two hour chunks of "deep time" in my calendar to write or do calcs or whatever, in which i go dnd on all services...but this means people can't find time on my calendars to address paras one and two above.
posted by hearthpig at 4:42 AM on May 14, 2021

I would be very interested to know the ages of the people taking various sides in this debate. My guess would be that everyone advocating for the death of email is under the age of 40.

Email is my preferred method of communication (I'm 45), but the older I get, the more often I ask for phone calls, because I increasingly find that many people are unable to make themselves understood over any sort of text medium.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 6:38 AM on May 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

I started a job half a year of so ago, wfh due to covid. The culture here is that everyone runs everything past everyone in long complicated email chains, which is exhausting.

My manager wants me to run everything past her, but is also behind on emails and doesn't thread/group her email conversations. This results in her answering each individual email 8-10 hours after it was sent, often unsettling issues the day after a consensus has already been reached by the rest of the group.

We've also got teams but no one has bothered to learn to use it, so it's basically used as a way to call each other and maybe chat if the person you need to actually uses the chat function.
posted by geegollygosh at 8:31 AM on May 14, 2021

« Older Gall-Peters: I hate you   |   ‘Rationals’ vs. ‘radicals’: Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments