It is both premature and foolhardy to proclaim that e-mail’s reign as “king of communications” is over as a recent Wall Street Journal article trumpets.
Not that e-mail is the best communications medium for everything; indeed we know very well it isn’t.
Instead, e-mail has, in the past 15 years in particular, become that path of least resistance for almost everything that transpires within an organization.
Update status? Send an e-mail to a few hundred of one’s closest colleagues.
Finish a report? Send another e-mail to a few hundred of one’s closest colleagues.
The fact is that we use e-mail opportunistically rather than with an understanding as to what the impact of its use might be.
Sending that status report to those few hundred colleagues actually cost the organization ca. 24 hours in lost time when one calculates the few minutes each person spent opening the e-mail he didn’t need to receive in the first place – plus the “recovery time,” which is the time it takes to get back to where one was in the task that was interrupted.
The result of all of our communications (and it isn’t just e-mail) is Information Overload, a problem that costs the U.S. economy ca. $900 billion per annum. On August 12, Information Overload Awareness Day was observed around the world with meetings and discussions. But that’s just one day – each additional day that we don’t address the problem of Information Overload and take steps to lessen its impact costs billions.
Companies can take steps to lower their exposure to Information Overload (an article about what can be done may be found at here) but even raising awareness of the problem and understanding the impact of overusing such tools as e-mail can make a big difference.
Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.