Don't E-Mail Us, We'll E-Mail You

You don't have time for this. Stop! In the time you take to read this article, you could be checking your e-mail.

And you should, because you probably have 25 new ones since this morning... three or four since you started this paragraph. They keep on coming, 24 hours a day, overflowing our virtual in-baskets and ruining our sorry lives.

They keep on coming, 24 hours a day, overflowing our virtual in baskets and ruining our sorry lives. You've probably had three or four since you started reading this column.
The first culprit is junk e-mail. Great if you want to lose weight, refinance your house, or get a can't miss "HOT STOCK TIP" from somebody in Guam. But the 45 spam-mails I get a day really don't make my life any easier, especially the dozen or so from; Lord knows how they even got my address (unless someone at work was Web-surfing on my PC while I was at a meeting, honest).

Then there's the several hundred I get from work each day thanks to the worst idea in modern history—the "cc:" I get cc'ed by people I don't know—cc'ed by people I've never met. I swear some people think they're measured by the number of people they copy on an e-mail. Let's have a new policy: If you have a distribution list longer than the 2000 Census, you should be beaten senseless with a printer cable.

But it gets worse, because not only don't I have time to read them, I don't have time to delete them! I'm worried that I'll delete something important. Legal evidence. A critical price quote. So I save everything, and so does everyone else in my department, consuming about 60 percent of the company's DASD budget for the next decade. But at least it's better than printing them out. I once tied up a DeskJet for a week and a half printing my archived e-mails from 1998.

The bottom line: With all this e-mail, all this information, all this communication—I actually have none. Because everything is marked urgent. Everything is top priority. The really important e-mails get lost among the, "We're re-striping the parking lot on Tuesday" e-mails, and I wind up able to find, read and respond to none of them!

Was it really so bad before e-mail? When we used telegrams, routed internal mail, and passed around faxes on that irritating curly paper? A stack of pink "While You Were Out" slips I can handle. But the 216 e-mails waiting for me when I get back from a three-day vacation—that's another story.

E-mail is like beer—great if it's used responsibly, but overdo it and you're toast. E-mail fiascos can happen! I once activated my "out of the office/on vacation" e-mail auto-responder then mistakenly sent an e- mail to someone else who also was "out of the office/on vacation." His e-mail auto-responded to me. I auto-responded back to him. I heard we repeated the process a couple million times and the whole system was down for a week. But no one complained to me, at least not via e-mail, that's for sure.

So let's work together. Only we can prevent e-mail. Let's all cut down! Commit to just three a day. If we get enough people, we can lick this thing. So tell a friend. Spread the word. Or don't—at least it'll mean one less e-mail.

Mike Cohn lives and works in Atlanta, where his voice-mailbox is full, too.

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