2013-03-08

Email has become half-dead as a means of communication

When I started using email in 1997, I was still considered an early adopter, and I did not have enough people to email. The biggest problem with email back then was purely technical - lack of multilingual support as Unicode had not been implemented in mailers yet. As email became more and more popular and the computer literacy of the average email users became lower and lower, my next problem with email shifted to their ignorance of email netiquettes. In the meanwhile I have come to realize that my fight against it is Quixotic and have stopped it.

Now that email has become so rampant, my problem is something totally different; it is not technical but human. More and more email users, at least those I have to email, send no replies and keep silent. As of now, more than one third of the questions I email, whether personal or work-related, are unanswered, and I have an impression that the percentage of these people is increasing.

There are three types of silence that annoy me so much that if someone I know behaves that way repeatedly or sometimes even just twice or three times, I even delete his or her email address from my address book, as I know that email is dead as a means of communication with him or her. Of course, these annoyances are found in face-to-face communication, but if they occur online, I often lose my temper completely, as there is not other clue unlike in face-to-face communication to guess what he or she thinks.

The most annoying type of online silence is to ignore sincere questions. If I have to send a question to someone only once, I can cope somehow with his or her silence, as I will never email him or her again. But if I have to send the same question to the same person regularly (and I really have to), his or her repeated silence drives me crazy. Unfortunately, there are people with whom I have to remain in touch for one reason or another, so I am forced to send them the same question again and again regularly until I receive their reply.

The second type of annoying online silence is lack of thanks. I often receive questions both from people I know and from those I do not know. Then I almost always answer them immediately in as detailed a manner as I can. But amazingly, many of these people simply keep silent afterward, even without acknowledging receipt of my answers. Of course, I do not answer them to be thanked. I may be still narrow-minded, but next time these people email me questions, I simply ignore them.

And the third type of annoying online silence is lack of apologies. Unfortunately, too many people, especially (but not only) in Israel, make promises without asking themselves enough whether they can keep them, and as a result they break the promises they made by email. I would expect receiving their apologies by email in such a case. But those who have this minimal netiquette are not many. What I receive instead is their silence.

I consider email as the most important service of the Internet, even more than the web. I would even say that it is a revolution in the history of communication. But unfortunately, email has become half-dead to me as a means of communication mainly because of these three types of silence. I am also annoyed by the very fact that I simply do not understand what these people think when they decide to keep silent in these manners.