As Email Wheezes Toward The Grave, We Contemplate A DNR

It sounds kind of crazy (or crazy awesome)--a company banning email for all its employees. But this is no item from News of the Weird. Far from it. The company that banned email is Europe's largest IT company, one with 75,000 employees and $13 billion in annual revenue, which operates in 13 countries. The company, Atos, is the official IT shop for the Olympic games.

Atos CEO Thierry Breton explained that "email is no longer the appropriate communication tool," and that the "zero email" policy would be phased in over the next 18 months. 

Breton says he hasn't sent an email in the past three years, and that Facebook, text, and the phone will replace email for his company, as they prepare for a new wave of usage and behavior.

By 2014, the technology research group Gartner predicts social networking services will replace email as the principal method of interpersonal communications for 20% of business users.

So, is email dead? Can we do something to change it? And should we?

While connecting via social networks and walled gardens is certainly safer and more contextual, it's also a disturbing trend toward isolationism. It says, "You can't reach me unless you know me, or know someone who knows me who will introduce you."   

How did email get so broken, so noisy, and so damned annoying anyway?

Think back to the emergence of the phone. At first it was expensive and costly to use the phone for telemarketing. Imagine if all day long from morning till night your phone rang with an endless back-to-back stream of offers to "make money while you sleep," update your FedEx Account, or transfer a large amount of cash from a Ethiopian businessman. How long would it be before you ripped the phone wire out of the wall? About 10 seconds. But by the time the phone costs had come down, the federal government had begun to give telephone customers the protections to ban unsolicited telemarketers. Simply put, the cost of the phone made it too expensive for large-scale spammers.

But email doesn't cost anything--for the sender, that is. For the receiver the costs are painfully real. Time, sanity, and attention span are all suffering.

Which is why I think it's time for the United States Postal Service to take over the management, operations, and back-end billing for the users of email.

How would this work? I'd propose that person-to-person communication be very low-cost, perhaps a few pennies per email. But business communications would pay a premium. And commercial advertising would be expensive, meaningfully so. This would stop a company from sending me advertisements about breast enhancements, since a simple bit of logic would say I'm probably not a customer. And perhaps most punitively, receivers should be able to bounce an unwanted commercial email and charge the sender a punitive fee for a mis-targeted outreach. 

So, what's wrong with this plan? Lots, of course. The Postal Service has no legal right to control email. But I have to believe that Congress could find a way to find it in the public interest to both save the Postal Service and take some useful role in creating a reasonable governance system for email.

Email was once wonderful. A magical, efficient, direct way to connect with people and share ideas and information. It's not gone yet, but it's facing near-term extinction. Email needs a traffic cop, with the power to manage the electronic commons and keep things running smoothly and fairly. 

I say save email. And I think my friend Pete the Postman is just the man for the job.

What's your solution?

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8 Comments

  • CircleGuru

    This article is looking years down the line, although it is an interesting way to do business now, people are not up to speed with it. Google+ will help this along though. We are going to look at what Atos is doing and try to do it now as well at http://circleguru.com

  • kharl angel

    my best friend's aunt makes $70/hr on the laptop. She has been out of work for 6 months but last month her check was $8183 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read this site NuttyRich.cöm

  • Paul Michaels

    Email is far from dead in many companies.  I use text messages, phone and LinkedIn, but Facebook has no place in my business.

  • Erin Schulte

    For those incensed by the USPS suggestion--I think it was somewhat tongue in cheek, folks...

  • Tom Engle

    Eighty percent of my snail mail is junk. Even with the volume of junk, because it's so inexpensive to send, the post office can't possibly balance it's budget. If they charged what it cost to send the junk -- a hell of a lot more than what they do charge ($0.03/piece?), probably more than $0.42/piece, they could come a lot closer to a balanced budget. This is yet another business subsidy, my taxes (instead of businesses) paying for crap I don't even want. I'd like to know if I electronically received (or UPS/FedEx)  the 20% of mail I do want and simply stop emptying my mail box, what would happen?

  • Nicholas K Cloyd

    Are you crazy? The USPS  has made a joke of regular mail. So the answer to that one is NO! Resorting to a model that TAXES useage and puts the bulk of costs on business is old news.  Arent we a new generation full of fresh ideas and remarkable innovations?  So finding another TAX for people that are already struggling is that answer?  NO!
    And by the way i think you should be given 2 weeks unpaid leave of absence for writing this article!

  • Mike Groseth

    +1 Couldn't agree more!!!  The USPS answer to not making $ isn't to improve and streamline...it's to decrease the quality of their service.  

  • Lionel Felix

    Banning email sounds good but I doubt it's truly workable to turn that spigot completely off. That said there are things like The Email Charter which try to spread the word on how to rein the madness back in. The soultion may be a "known" and "unknown" mail server system. Basically making anyone with a mail server register it, get an encryption key (because email really needs to be sent much more securely), register with a real, verifiable physical address, and other methods akin to registering a car or validating identity. And within the system, mail servers can "react" to one going rogue, essentially refusing to relay mail from it, and cutting it off. The premise is, all mail senders including mail clients should be registered, known applications that connect securely to registered, known mail servers and we essentially dump POP and SMTP. 

    On the service side, a business registers as a "bulk sender" and they have specific rules they have to follow in order for mail systems within countries / regions / whatever or they are shut out. Who is a governing body on this? I would assume as mundane as the FTC or interesting as a global ghost parliament made up of businesses, citizens and politicians. 

    We have what amounts to a very broken plumbing system that too easily allows pollutants. That doesn't mean we should figure out a way to stop drinking water, we need to figure out a way to keep the system clean and it might mean revamping in place and likely making some people mad at the same time. that's the nature of things, no great change can happen without people not being happy about it. Otherwise is it really great change? And if people still want to use POP / SMTP, they can. People still use NNTP, speak Esperanto and play ukulele. The rest of us just want it to be easy to opt out. 

    Even with all that in place, email behavior isn't fixed by this infrastructure. We, citizens who spam one another in the workplace with CCs, reply to alls, FYIs, CYAs, no body messages other than "thanks" and "ok" are the culprits, more-so than the spammers because the Baracuda gets most of that stuff anyway. http://emailcharter.org/ . So, it comes down to personal responsibility, some infrastructure and a little app development. Lets not throw the whole system away, lets reexamine how we use this tool in the workplace and go from there.