Email is one of the Catch-22's of an Internet-connected age: communication becomes easy enough to fill an inbox with hundreds of time-consuming messages that beg responses.
Luis Suarez, a self-described social computing evangelist at IBM, decided to forgo email four years ago to ease his life and on Jan. 6 gave his annual update of A world without email.
The 8,000 word update includes graphs of emails received, interspersed with pictures of Gran Canaria off the coast of Morocco where he lives and a documentary video where Suarez describes the amazing experience.
Mind you, Surarez hasn't chopped off digital communication. Far from it. Instead, he communicates through social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
I suppose we would have to wait and watch attentively to see what happens eventually and see whether email will finally reinvent itself, or not, into accommodating a new set of needs where it would need to find its sweet spot and consider itself part of a bundle, a set of options, in a new, much more complex collaborative environment, where social collaboration consoles will rule; where it's just one more of the mix, one more of the potential solutions for very specific use cases and from there onwards we would have to watch and see how it will decide to blend in, he writes.
Suarez has even inspired one IBM colleague to at least reduce their email.
Juliana Leong, project manager with IBM's Office of the CIO, isn't getting rid of email, but she told Wired that she's trying to reduce it., inspired by Suarez.
He's a very prominent person in the social community in IBM, so a lot of people like to follow his example, she told Wired.
The idea behind Suarez's approach is that information made public through social media will result in fewer questions and less time communicating, similar to building a professional FAQ.
One of the most famous advocates of living email-free is Timothy Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Workweek. His solution isn't to get rid of email, but to outsource his email to virtual assistants who filter and respond to emails.
The folks behind social media would agree that email is being replaced by social media.
When we were doing research for our messaging product, we actually looked at what subject lines people used. And like 80 percent of subject lines are hey, hi, or left blank. The subject line is outdated. The truth is, e-mail is outdated, Molly Graham, part of Facebook's mobile group, told Wired.
Other techies have experimented with becoming email free.
Atos, a French IT company, became potentially one of the first companies aiming to eliminate email from the workplace by mid-2012.
We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives, CEO Thierry Breton said in a statement when the policy was first announced in February. At [Atos] we are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organizations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution.
Breton told the Wall Street Journal in November that he hadn't used email since he became the CEO in 2008.
In another case, a partner of a Highway 12 Ventures firm in Idaho, Mark Solon - went email free in 2008 and said: If the people who sent the majority of those e-mails knew that I didn't have an inbox, they would have either picked up the phone and called me or (and this is the heart of it) probably wouldn't have bothered because it really wasn't that important after all.
I like Mark, but I'm skeptical that this is going to work, wrote Seth Levine, a technology investor. Even with his secretary printing out important documents (board packages and the like), the limits of old school communication in my mind significantly outweigh the upside from people self-filtering their communications with you.
However, industry experts project that the email-free-population will only be a slim minority. The number of worldwide email accounts is projected to increase to 3.8 billion in 2014, up from 2.9 billion in 2010, according to a report from the Radicati Group, a communications consulting company based in Palo Alto, Calif.