Who remembers Homestar Runner? I'm probably dating myself and/or categorizing myself as a particular sort of geek with that reference. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, Homestar Runner was one of the few entertaining sites on the internet a decade ago. (Along with the singing horses. Were those ever good times.) The highlight of Homestar Runner was, of course, the email, and to this day I can't think of the word email without hearing Homestar say it. Go on. Click over to the site and hover over the email button.
Now you know what I'm hearing every time I see that word.
I have seven email addresses. Se. Ven. That's insane, right? What could possibly have possessed me to sign up for so many accounts? Well, let's see. There's...
1. The junk mail. My very first email account. My one and only hotmail. Ah, the days when hotmail was still hot. Now I use it to sign up for things that require an email address when really, they can have no good reason for emailing me ever. Also, for some incongruous reason, that's where I get the Tor.com newsletter. Which is about the only reason I ever check that account.
2. The NOT junk sign-up account. For those few retailers I actually want to hear from. And also the library.
3. The "friends and family" account. You know, from back before I realized that having a cutesy email address was unprofessional.
4. The more professional account. Ie, the one I actually use regularly.
5. The joint account. Which I share with my husband for when we both need access.
6. The "for some reason I'm going to sign up for all writing-related promotions and social media with a whole NEW account" account. Yeah, this is probably where I started going off the deep end.
7. The account that came with my website. Which will one day be my "this is where my legions of adoring fans can reach me" account. One day... And also that's where I send out my newsletter.
So I may be crazy, but there it is.
The really crazy part though, is that I do not like email. (Unless you are my lovely agent, in which case I always love getting email from you.) So why do I burden myself with so much of it?
Well, the thing is, I didn't always feel that way. I remember the days when email was a new and wonderful thing, and it meant that instead of waiting two weeks for my letter to arrive at its destination, a response to be written, and said response to arrive back, I had to wait only as long as it took my long-distance friends to compose a new email. For a girl whose social life revolved around friendships made at summer camps, that was a big deal.
But then things changed. Email became a place of bills, of advertising, of bombardment by things that maybe only mattered a little. I know a LOT of people who only check their email once a week or so now, and I can't say I blame them. (Except really, who are you people? I always have to know when I get new email.) The very convenience of email is precisely what makes it such a nuisance, especially now that the personal side of communication has moved to texting and social media.
So how do we manage it? How do we make email more effective?
1. Stop sending so much of it! If there is *any* other way to communicate, use it.
2. If you're typing more than a paragraph, reconsider. I have a former team leader who will be absolutely shocked that I'm saying this seeing as I used to send him entire essays over email, complete with complex questions. (His replies were usually a one word "Yes" or "No," and I had to figure out which of the many questions he was answering.) Should I really have spent so much time on an email? No way! If you have that much to say, say it in person. Or, if you have to say it to a lot of different people, print it out and mail it. The process of having to do that will tell you one way or the other whether the information was actually important enough to disperse.
3. Clean up what you do send. I saw an article today about eliminating the word "just" from emails. It was a good reminder. Be clean and direct. Don't hedge. Get to the point. And make the header of the email relevant. I've even seen recommendations that one put ALL relevant information in the header line if possible.
4. Don't expect a reply. If you really need a reply, ask in person. If there's simply no other way to ask aside from email, then make sure the question is clear and up front and not nestled in a bunch of other text.
Maybe one day we will live in a world where email will not be such a nuisance. In the meantime, how do you use email?