Email is Dead for Me

After a less-than-rousing response to a conference in which I invited 18 male friends who live locally, and got only two responses at all, I sent a second, perhaps ill-advised second email the following week, exactly seven days later, asking, “Hey, what gives? Why no response?”

Here’s what I sent (hold your breath - it’s a bit rough, but remember that most of the recipients were people I’ve known for over a decade - all men):

I have to say that out of all the so-called “men” that I sent this to, only two responded at all. Quite frankly, it’s depressing to know that a lifetime of friendships and relationships that I’ve made come down to the fact that most of you don’t have either the time, respect, or interest in me as a person to bother to respond to a nice email. “Thanks, but I can’t go”, would seem to me, the starting point for politeness.

I realize that some people view email, even in 2008, as some “less-than” form of communication, not on par with hand-printed wedding invitations and the like. I’m aware of that.

Maybe some of you simply view me as an “ass”, or have for some time, and just don’t have the courage to say it to my face. Who knows?

Personally, I’m sick of wasting time feigning a relationship with some of you when clearly your head is elsewhere. I’m moving on. There’s other cool people in this world that show a little common decency and respect. I’ve NEVER not responded to an email - especially one in which someone takes the time to invite me to something (not just a forwarded missive).

I think many of you are swell guys, but there’s really no point in being friends if you won’t communicate. If you’re THAT busy, I suppose that’s a message in and of itself.

I got back a few more responses after that. Here’s the breakdown with a few excerpts:

So, I thought I’d take it to a wider audience and see what advice you’d give me. Here’s my thinking at this point. Email is useless. Dead.

No matter what I learn from this (and I’ve learned a lot), one of the points that keep coming back to me is that email is useless.

One friend later added the following:

For my wedding, my wife and I sent out probably 300 invitations, and since it was at a fancy pants place that cost us >$50/seat, it was vitally important that we receive an RSVP.

I will tell you that we got a 10% RSVP rate, and had to personally call the other 90% to obtain a yes/no answer. Some of these people were on your list. Hey, did you respond or did I have to hunt you down? I’m thinking I had to make a call or two.

Then, after that, we had people changing minds and inviting people that weren’t on the list.

So, I think what you’re seeing is not a reflection on your friends, it is human nature. A body at rest remains at rest, and so forth.

Human nature. Probably quite right when you get right down to it. And if that’s so, is there any point in sending out email if nearly 90% of the people will literally ignore the first request.

What do we use Email for?

If we exclude consumer-to-business use (online banking, e-commerce, etc) and think only about the social implication of email, it pretty much boils down to the following uses:

Is there anything else? Looking over the past year of email, that pretty much sums about 98% of all the personal email I’ve received from friends/family.

And yet, it’s becoming apparent that email is just not the best tool to use to communicate this stuff. The above recent scenario is fully representative of many emails over the past year. The only difference this time is that I tried to push the envelope a little. Poke a few tigers with sticks, so to speak. Just to see what would happen. Some might argue that an in-person meeting would be best, and I fully agree, but from a productivity standpoint, it would be near impossible for most people. The telephone isn’t much better. I’ve had people suggest quite strongly that I should just call more often and email less. I’m just not sure about that. I find that I call more often the folks who communicate via email more often. And vice-versa. Sometimes you just gotta call the guy that sent the hilarious email of the week. And at the same time, there’s something awkward about calling the guy who never emails - or emails back. Not making a rule here, but that’s just the personal dynamics of it. For me, anyway.

The chief advantage of email is that it is a time-saver. Although a slow typist might not think so, the benefit is that it is a way to communicate to a lot of people very quickly (type once, send to many). More importantly, it allows people to respond as they have time (*unlike disruptive phone calls). One family I know always replies after 2am. For them, that’s their email time. I don’t think I’ve gotten an email from them before 1am in the morning. And others I know send emails before 7:30am religiously. Email lets people get involved at their convenience.

But, as I’ve pointed out before, never responding, especially over the course of many emails can begin to reflect on your character. After all, no one likes a lurker. Take for instance, the Magnificent Seven who never responded to either of my emails. If you poke a tiger with a stick and it just ignores you, do you begin to question yourself, or do you just lose respect for the tiger? I don’t know the answer.

Here’s the Problem with Email in 2008:

What’s the Solution?

Here’s what I’m doing until at least the end of 2009. A social experiment perhaps. I’m not sending anymore personal emails to anyone. I’m not going to initiate anyway. I’m going to try and help by not overwhelming people further.

By using newer web tools that do a better job of communicating, I hope to inspire others to also try these tools, and contribute less to all the dead email trees piling up somewhere in South America.

I’m certainly not going to stop communicating. Those that know me would agree that it would be nearly impossible for me to do so. I could tolerate prison as long as I could write. Take away my pen and even freedom becomes unbearable.

Here’s How I’ll Handle Old Email with the New Web

Let me share how I’ll handle the same methods of personal communication that I used to handle with email:

The beauty of these web tools is that people can subscribe and follow these feeds at their leisure. Their email inbox will not be filled up with stuff by me (unless they choose to have updates sent there). They can “check in” when they want. Or not at all. Overtime, those who maintain an interest in me, my life, and my family, will find they are interested in utilizing these web tools and integrating them into their social habits. They’ll also find that others they know are also on there. Imagine going to one place and checking in with all your friends, but not having them intrude into your day when you are busy. That’s the promise of tools like these. We aren’t quite there yet, but it’s getting closer.


I’ll still respond, as always, to emails people send (initiate) to me. Can’t see that changing. Even so, last year I began occasionally blogging some responses and just replying with the hyperlink. (Of course, I don’t publicly identify the source).

Rather than me consistently inserting myself into someone’s life, they have the options to get as involved with me as they would like. I hold no illusions. This will put the burden back on friends and family to “reach out” occasionally - and some may choose never to do so, either out of intent, or just constant distraction by more intrusive communication from others.

To be clear, I’m not cutting anyone off, ending any friendships, or doing anything rash. But it’s equally clear to me that people who I thought were my friends have, quite clearly, different ideas regarding our relationship, how best to maintain it, or, quite possibly, what the definition of a friend is. That’s fully okay by me. I understand that out of all my friends, we are all going to think differently. I still want to be friends with all of them. I’d like to hang out with all of them more - much more than we currently do.

The above allows my friends to be as involved with me as they like (even to lurk, if they want) - or to not do anything at all. They don’t need to feel guilty. The rest is, quite simply, up to them.

Realizations and Expectations

Some will argue that I’m being unrealistic. That no one is going to start a blog, much less bother to subscribe to mine. That some folks who can hardly handle email are going to start using a feed reader. I agree. It’s quite likely that some of my friends might get “left in the dust” so to speak. Personally, I think they’ll come around. And I’ll welcome them with open arms when they do. I still remember being on email when no one I knew was on it. And now everyone has it. But who knows how long that will take. It could be years. Another decade.

In the meantime, I’ve met a slew of really great folks who have learned (and are learning) how to use some of these new tools. I’m still learning too. We are just scratching the surface of what is possible with the internet in terms of sociability. So, even though I feel like I’m leaving some friends behind, I’m also gaining new ones. Such is the cycle of life, I suppose. But, as I’ve pointed out above, many of my existing “email buddies” are already not using email with any degree of effectiveness and regularity (at least for these types of communication with me anyway). So for them, nothing much will likely change.


My intent is to keep at this until at least 2010. I’ll probably slip up and send the occasional email. Old habits die hard. And then I’ll report on it back here. Actually, I’ll probably report on it much sooner (maybe in six months). Heck, I could probably write the report now with a decent degree of accuracy, but I’d rather wait and see. Maybe I’ll be surprised. Probably not. But, I’m an optimist.

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And this just in. Josh Catone of Read/Write/Web is reporting that New Scientist magazine will release tomorrow the results of a study that shows that, in emergencies, “social media sites, blogs, and instant messaging services were better at connecting people and providing warnings during emergencies than traditional sources of such information”. Food for thought, people. Especially in hurricane-prone Florida.


This is insanity! I have friends and coworkers from all over trying to get me to sign up to their competing people networks so we can “network”. In the name of efficient communications I’m supposed to subscribe to all these networks. Kick me! What am I supposed to do, log into 10 networks to see what people are saying? Check people’s blog sites? That’s not sociability, it’s compartmentalization!

But, I want to cooperate with your experience. Here’s my new Salberg friendly approach:

I’ve decided that if I want to broadcast information to groups, I’ll avoid email broadcasting. Instead, I’ll post information on your blogsite and then email broadcast the link all my friends saying: I’ve left a message for you at - please go there to receive it.

Am I on the right track? Or have I just reinvented the bulletin board?

Wow, you are brave! I’m very curious to see how it goes for you.

By the way, your captcha questions are difficult! I’ve been living in Europe for years and I couldn’t remember Florida’s football team and had to look it up.

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