Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Communicating and Why I Quit Email (Episode 2)

A few months have passed since I quit email, and (pleasantly enough [to me]) little has changed. I intervened twice: once to respond to a Craigslist buyer and complete a sale, and once to respond to a critical email of my recent book (hint: it seems to be even more of a stinker than my first). In the first week, I continued checking my personal email a few times a day--worried that I might have missed something valuable. By the second and third week, I had begun checking only daily or every other day. By the end of the first month, I stopped checking entirely.

Perhaps the most delightful part of this experiment is the knowledge that if people really want to talk to you, they will automatically route around perceived obstacles in communication. My immediate family immediately switched to GChat, SMS or semaphore.

But the world can suffer no dream too much before crushing it. Problems abide.

  1. Authentication is a nightmare. We are forced to self-identify as homo-sapien by email, then by CAPTCHA and then by the email-click-the-link-to-really-prove-you-exist. Account recovery is entirely email dependent. A few bright spots exist if you've already used email to establish an ~OAuth account for single sign on (like a Google account for cross authentication with StackOverflow); but, for most of the web, authentication is email's butler.
  2. The market provides no single, viable alternative platform for sharing links. Certainly, there are atrocities like Facebook and Google+, the failed Delicious and failed alternatives; but the closest approximation (I've found) that meets the need is Kippit, but it suffers from the email barrier to entry--which is just too great to convert 99% of friends and family. Sign-up is the death knell of an integration service, but you can feel free to do better. Having failed to convert anyone to Kippit, I'm declaring link sharing a complete loss. The only end-to-end failure of the experiment so far.
  3. The competition for push/pull/any notifications has yet to include a 2nd place victor. If you want to list something on Ebay or Craigslist and you don't want to use email--you've got a Sisyphean climb up the wrong side of a Pythagorean equation. Sure, there's Boxcar and all of the failed Open Pushes of the web, but they've either reinvented spam or they've vaporized into the ether of the venture capital bubble surrounding us. Projects like If This Then That inspire some hope that at least ideological convergence on a new way of thinking is possible, but if you're not short selling Optimism, perhaps you should be.
  4. Email contacts are really just hyperlinks; but they're the worst sort of hyperlink. I can still follow my first Geocities page link through the Internet wayback machine and touch it, were I so masochistically inclined. A dead email? Less valuable the bytes it occupies. I've been collecting photos of the good ole days, but forget about trying to share them with former comrades--those old email addresses are a one way trip.
None of these issues is enough to deter me from my pursuit of the Questing Beast. I plan to permanently delete my email account at the end of the year (terminating my auto-vacation responder directing inquiries to my last post of this subject). 

Kwin Kramer's The Cloud I'd like to See is the seedling of the inspiration for Episode 3 of this series: How to Communicate in a Post-Email World and/or How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Shockwave.

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