It’s been some time since I’ve posted links by others extolling email or its underlying virtues. Sometimes folks inadvertently promote concepts or ideals of email, even though they might not be discussing email directly.
I will be trying to do this more frequently. So stay tuned for more, or subscribe to the Just Use Email RSS feed.
Let’s start with one I disagree with, despite my great admiration and appreciation for its author, Cal Newport.
In Why I Changed My Email Setup, Cal states, “the solution to email overload is not handling messages more efficiently, but instead preventing them from arriving in your inbox in the first place”. Somewhat correct, but that is if, and only if, you aren’t offloading that potential email to a non-email corner (other than in-person communication, which always rocks).
Cal ultimately decides (spoiler alert) that context-switching, which I agree is draining, is best combated by having four different inboxes, each with their own inbox and login. He also decides to use Google Workspaces, which I can’t approve of due to Google’s privacy-sapping history.
While I can understand his frustration —and his band-aid solution — I think it would be better if he mastered rules and filters and stick to one inbox. Read his article and see if you don’t think he’s added more complexity to an otherwise 50-year old simple protocol.
Over at Recursive Relay, a blog by Rae Mac, she opines that social media should be more like email. Wonderful and agreed! My favorite paragraph:
On its surface, email has changed a lot since 1971, but its infrastructure hasn’t changed much at all. Anyone on the network can send an email to anyone else without permission, with providers and relays distributing the messages worldwide. The simplicity of the design was devised before the existence of personal computers and email marketing, and its inefficiencies and lack of protections have led to serious problems, such as spam. A whopping 45 percent of emails were classified as spam in 2019. But this decentralized design has paradoxically helped email become more durable and innovative.
She goes on to make the case that social media, with all its disparate platforms and quirky connectors just don’t have the reach and staying power (not to mention the centralized control by only a few social media platforms) that email has always had from the get-go. I like how she points out that a relatively small email provider, ProtonMail based out of Switzerland with 10 million users, is able to to compete on a level-playing field with Gmail, due to the interoperability of the email platform. A worthy read for email lovers.
A tear may come to your eye when you read Jes Olson’s beautiful tribute to email entitled there is beauty in the minimalism of email. Jes has one of those quirky minimalist blogs that I love to discover. I’d rather not spoil of any of it and instead recommend you just go read it (it’s rather short). But as a teaser, I’ll quote here the opening line: “i have a quest for you – to make email something you cherish. something that brings anticipation, thought, and personality to your life.”
Winner for this month, however, has to be Brian Schrader’s On the Web, the Best Outcome is Email. He starts by covering the hullabaloo on Mastodon’s recent rise to prominence, but then poses a question so stunning that millennials would probably accidentally walk in front of a bus if it popped up on their smartphone: “What If It’s All Just Email, Man?”
I love email. I genuinely do. I love it in a way that often raises eyebrows among nearly everyone I encounter, even my fellow techie-types. Why do I love email? Because it, like the Web itself has remained true to the promise of the Internet even after it made unavoidable contact with the real world. Let me explain
And then he does. It’s a must read for anyone annoyed at one platform after another telling us to use their (proprietary and privacy-breaching) so-called service.
Brian, come join us here on Just Use Email. We are your people.
Lastly, if you’re into future-think — and who among us isn’t? — Andrew Conner’s Common Digital Infrastructure will have you musing about possibilities in this space. He discusses society’s needs for, basically, standards. He gets down to digital standards, and then has this excellent observation:
We got lucky with email. AOL would have loved to own email. Google hosts a lot of it now, but not enough to make it their own; they tried with Wave. And others tried as well, creating a “better email” that was centrally owned. Could we improve email? Of course, but it has emerged to be a feature, not a bug, how simple it is. Given an addressable host, I can send a message to anyone globally. This is critical common infrastructure. It doesn’t die because centralized rent-capture is not possible. You can sell an email service, but you can’t paywall email itself.
What makes that even more compelling to read is if you consider his four qualities of common infrastructure that he covers first. For me, I kind of came away from his article thinking, “yeah, what are these non-email services even doing? We need more common digital infrastructure!”.
So keep your email ears attuned to those who might, one day, try to break, steal, or ruin that infrastructure that provides so much to so many, just as they’ve tried to do with other simple, nearly-free, standardized functionality that simply works. Until next time…