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THe Downside of Email

Posted on April 19, 2018
Image of a computer with yellow email envelopes floating away from it.

While the first electronic mail was sent and received in the late 1960s, email as we know it did not become commonplace until the turn of the century, which means it is less than 20 years old. There is no doubt email has revolutionized the way we communicate both personally and professionally.

But there is a downside to email, and I’m not just referring to the loss of a personal connection. According to Quora, 205 billion emails are send every day – that’s 2.4 million every second. The daily average for a single person hovers a little over 120. We have come to rely to heavily on email and thus avoid picking up the phone or walking down the hall. But we are getting bogged down in emails and a single issue can translate to multiple back and forth emails when a two-minute face-to-face or phone conversation would likely resolve it. For example, if you need to check on someone’s availability, it might take three or four or five emails back and forth, whereas picking up the phone, a mutually agreeable time can usually be found within a couple of minutes or less. So why are so quick to use email? I believe this happens for two reasons:

  1. We get a sense of satisfaction of answering the email quickly and, even if temporarily, getting it out of our queue.
  2. We have become reluctant to walk down the hall or pick up the telephone.

There is a third reason: business people do not always make it easy to pick up the phone. It drives me bonkers when I get an email from a colleague or another professional and they do not include their contact information in their signature line. It then takes extra effort to look them up in the directory to place a call, thus it becomes much easier to email back even though a phone call would be much quicker.

Of course email is a necessary element of our daily professional and personal lives. It provides easy, quick, and effective ways to communicate. But there are times when it can be more cumbersome. So, next time you start to respond to an email focus on the overarching issue, task, or outcome and then ask yourself which would be quicker? Email or a phone call?


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Faculty
Department Head of Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Drexel University
Posted in interpersonal-communications