|E-mail offers new ways of employing
incremental reading in creative communication and remote brainstorming.
This article presents a short overview of benefits and disadvantages of
using e-mail in communication with the view to maximizing the
E-mail changes the world. What took months in 18th century, takes seconds today.
What took a couple of dollars and precious time needed for telephone synchronization in
the early 1990s, today, most people in industrialized world can replace with a
few clicks of the mouse. Yet there are many people who hate e-mail. They hate spam, and their
overflowing Inboxes. The ever-growing queue of unanswered messages poses an
unbearable mental burden. Others prefer instant messaging, one-on-one chat, group
chats, or Internet telephony.
There seems to be a war going on between those who see "instant
feedback" as the way of the future, while others insist "asynchronous
communication" is superior. Although instant communication delivers speed,
it also feeds on human weaknesses that adversely affect creativity and
efficiency. This article argues for the importance and value of
Apart from delivering speed, instant communication is favored by majority of
people for two basic reasons:
- It feeds on a human weakness: the need for instant gratification. There
used to be a substantial evolutionary benefit in encoding impatience, and
compulsiveness in the human brain. We all like to get instant results and
hate to be interrupted when doing things we find interesting.
- Most people use communication to accomplish their goals often at the cost
of other people's goals. They seek to instantly push their own agenda onto
others. Asynchronous communication makes it difficult.
The main thesis of this article is: unless speed is of primary importance,
asynchronous communication is vastly superior. For psychological reasons it
is very difficult to channel most of your communications into e-mail. However,
the cost-effectiveness of such a move is immense. Here is a short summary of
pros and cons.
Benefits of e-mail:
- Asynchronous: No need to synchronize timing. No cross-Atlantic
time-zones. No worry of waking the other party up or interrupting a family dinner. The
timing of processing of different classes of messages can also be optimized for
a number of criteria (e.g. maximum mental acuity, counteracting fatigue, apportioning
stress, apportioning creative stimulation, etc.)
- No disruption: A direct consequence of asynchronicity is that your
mental work will not be disrupted. That might be the number one advantage of
avoiding instant communication. Disruptive communication may ruin your
creative work while your mind is constantly taken away from the problem in
focus. It can also wreak havoc on your schedule. It is extremely easy to
chat away time allocated for a creative activity. Some people are even able
to chat the whole days away and wonder why so little work had been done.
Naturally, this affects also those who regularly monitor their Inbox or turn
on sound notifications to know when new mail
- Time limit: It is easy to impose a daily time-limit on mail
processing. This is a vital time-management benefit. It is so much harder to
impose limits on conversations and meetings.
- Incremental reading: E-mail makes it possible to apply incremental
reading with all its benefits. All of the following advantages are amplified
with incremental reading: prioritization, creativity, memory consolidation,
searchability, multiplicity of contacts and threads, and handling mail overflow.
- Prioritization: You can prioritize the threads of discussion using
solely your own criteria. The
priorities are not imposed on you. You downgrade or ignore threads that are
of less significance for you. It is you who determines the agenda, not the
other parties on the line.
- Creativity: Slow and incremental flow of ideas magnifies
creativity. Ideas may be born very slowly. Yet they ultimately take far lesser
cost per idea. The mechanism for this boost in creativity is exactly the
same as in incremental reading.
- Memory consolidation: If you process mail incrementally with
SuperMemo, you can easily minimize time necessary to ensure recall of vital
pieces of information sent via e-mail.
- Remove negative emotion: E-mail makes it easier to remove the emotion factor.
E-mail can make two meek individuals fire in anger. E-mail can easily be
misinterpreted. Yet with a dose of training, it can be an effective de-emotifier.
You can hide your emotional state. You can always remove all
emotional threads and respond in emotion-free matter-of-fact manner.
- Remove emotional pressure: People find it easier to tell the truth
via e-mail. Difficult pieces can be mulled over and shaped in the least
painful manner without affecting the core message. It is easier to refuse.
It is easier to withstand a mental pressure imposed by others. It is easier
to minimize the hurt to the other person's feelings while being unmoved in
- Multiple contacts: due to savings in time per contact, many more
contacts can be handled
- Multiple threads: due to savings in time per thread and improved
memory consolidation, incremental reading makes it easy to handle many more
threads of thought than in a conversation mode
- Handling overflow: With SuperMemo, once you run out of the
allocated time, you can Postpone the remaining mail-load along
strictly defined criteria.
- Archive: All messages can be searched in seconds. Many messages
include promises (including your own). Those mini-contracts are easily
recoverable from the archive.
Disadvantages of e-mail
- No fun: Fun of direct communication is lost. Adding fun to
communication may not be cost effective, but its value can be immense for
health, sociability and human contact.
- No immediate feedback: You know little of if your message has been
received. Your curiosity as to the answer is not instantly satisfied.
- Hard to judge emotional status: You know little of the emotional
background to options sent via e-mail. A job interview would better be
conducted face-to-face or via telephony.
- Slow flow of ideas: A brainstorming session that might take an hour
(e.g. via Internet telephony), can drag for a month (even though it will
ultimately take less total time per participant).
- Skills required: Without necessary skills, benefits of e-mail are
often lost. Some people simply do not like e-mail, and they may be lost to
the cause of e-mail brainstorming.
- Offence: Many people will take offence if you tell them you prefer
to talk to them via e-mail.
- Disadvantages of e-mail technology: No multi-mode communication,
spam, mail worms, mail lost in transit, server mediation, privacy issues, security weaknesses, file size limitations, non-zero configuration cost,
It all may sound quite inhuman and robotic. Yet the whole concept of
time-management is grounded in maximizing your efficiency, maximizing the power
of rational mind, while reducing the impact of human weaknesses.
If creativity is essential. If time-management is important. If deadlines are
not pressing. If your typing skills are solid. Convert as much of your meetings
and phone conferences to incremental e-mail communication. Once this becomes a
habit, you will find it hard to return to the world of disruptive communication
that offers a far lower benefit-to-cost ratio.
If you disagree or would like to list more advantages or disadvantages of
e-mail as contrasted with instant communication, leave your comments here.