If you send me an email, I’m probably not going to read it.
I feel bad about this! I know I should try harder. I feel guilty every time I leave an e-card unopened, a long update from a relative unread, or click past an invitation to something I’d probably enjoy. But I’m going to level with you. I won’t read your email for the same reason I haven’t listened to a voicemail in the past five years: It’s archaic, it’s clunky, and the thought of opening it gives me a vague but overwhelming sense of dread.
Once upon a time, though, email was great! How many of us squirmed out of trouble at one time or another with “oh my email must have gotten lost,” a thing that has happened, in actuality, exactly never? But our collective honeymoon period with email is long gone. By 2014, Gizmodo had put together a list of “11 reasons email is the worst.” In 2015, Fast Company published an investigation titled “how email became the most reviled communication experience ever.” The same year, BuzzFeed News’ Matt Honan told the Reply All podcast that his approach to managing his personal account was “set it on fire and turn around and run.” By 2016, the Harvard Business Review was putting forth “a modest proposal: eliminate email.” Now pretty much everyone with any respect for their sanity avoids replying to emails for as long as they can get away with.
Despite our efforts, though, email just won’t die. Even Honan, who’d insisted on the show that he wasn’t going to use email anymore, admitted he still checked his inbox every few days. Around the same time, Inc. boldly declared that “email will be obsolete by 2020,” yet it has stuck around, as persistent and unwanted as a cold sore.
Fast Company’s investigation, on the other hand, put email’s expiration date at 2080, god help us all. I’m more optimistic, though. The collective and increasingly begrudging use of email by generations younger than, oh, 65, reminds me of the twilight of voicemail. The mobile inbox went from being a functional and perfectly acceptable way of communicating — to the point that my step-mom and her sister only talked via intentional voicemail-tag for a few years — to the world’s biggest hassle as text-based messaging grew to rival it in popularity and convenience. I honestly don’t even know what my voicemail greeting is anymore, which is fine because only my pharmacy actually leaves me messages.
Unlike other forms of modern communication, email is grating because of both its potential endless length (who has time for that?) and its passive-aggressive way of sitting around in your inbox until it’s “convenient” for you (which is basically guaranteed to make you look like a jerk if you don’t reply in under 10 minutes). The new Gmail function of bumping emails I’ve avoided back to the top of my inbox made me so anxious that I finally had to turn the feature off. Anne Helen Petersen credits millennial burnout for how insurmountable writing a reply can be, while Slack co-founder Stewart Butterfield put it bluntly to Fast Company: “There’s a billion f–king things you have to do in your life, and email is the distillation of the other stuff that other people want you to do.” Who would want to spend anymore time around that than is absolutely necessary to do your job?
The rising number of promotions and other nonessential emails is another reason to avoid your inbox altogether. Just as scam phone calls are now so out of control that I don’t even answer the phone unless a conversation has been prearranged, email is nonfunctional because 99 percent of what anyone receives is just pointless garbage to wade through. Even using filters in Gmail, doggedly unsubscribing from emails, and staying on top of my Sisyphean quest toward inbox zero, the daily deluge is ridiculous. No wonder some 57 percent of people have abandoned an email account due to the sheer number of incoming emails.
More than anything, though, dealing with email is another boring everyday task in a life full of boring everyday tasks. I fantasize sometimes about creating a permanent out-of-office reply that goes something like “how dare you add another email to my inbox!!!”
Instead, I’ll put it plainly once and for all: Yes I got your email. But I have no idea what it says.