Farhad Manjoo on the Defense of Email

Farhad Manjoo, a departing columnist at Slate, pens a piece praising email. He writes: “Nobody gives email its due. We all kvetch about how much mail we get, how little of it is important, and how difficult it is to sort the good from the bad. Filtering and responding to email is one of the most annoying parts of my job. But I wouldn’t ever give it up.” I’ve read too many pieces espousing how email is terrible and/or evil, so this was a refreshing read.

I think the best point in Manjoo’s piece was about email being democratic and non-discriminating:

One thing people hate about email is that every message shows up in your mailbox pretty much the same way—you see the sender, subject line, and a small preview. Emails from your boss aren’t accorded better placement than messages from an intern or from some schemer in Nigeria. Smart email services like Gmail and Outlook do offer lots of tools for automatically filtering mail, but in general, if you get a lot of messages, your inbox looks like a big mess every morning.

Another way to say this is: Email doesn’t discriminate. Because anyone in the world, even strangers, can email me, and because a message that comes from my boss looks exactly like one that comes from an intern, email is the most egalitarian, accessible communications tool in your office. When every message looks the same, you’re forced to confront lots of viewpoints. Email gives newcomers to an organization just as much of an opportunity to join the conversation as old-timers. I suspect this would be less likely on social networks like Yammer, where richer profile information—follower counts, pictures, and such—clouds out content.

Excellent. I’m going to miss Farhad’s columns at Slate. He is definitely departing in style.

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