Where Have All My Emails Gone?

I hadn’t really noticed how few day to day emails I get these days until I stripped out all the subscription, blog related and bulletin ones that I used to receive but have replaced with RSS feeds. This started me thinking as to "Where Have All My Emails Gone?"

I have less emails now than I have had as far back as I can remember, but at the same time I know more about what is going on in the world and with my friends than at any time in the past. I hardly email my friends, but I know what is going on with their lives, and I communicate with a number of different friends around the world on a daily basis. I am sure that you know why – because by definition if you are reading this you are into the technology, but it was only when I stopped to think about it I realized just how much I used Instant Messenger (iChat, AIM, MSN, Google Talk), RSS Feeds, Blogs, Personal Web Sites, Podcasts and Skype to communicate with my friends rather than email. By way of examples:

– I communicate more with my parents in Florida through our family blog than through any other medium. Second I would have to say was IM, followed by Skype and then emails,
– I have been following a friends new business venture in Ireland through his blog on the experience,
– I have been following a friends 10 week concert tour around the States through the site he set up for the experience, and
– I share our experiences with friends around the world through our web site and Flickr account.

All of the above offer RSS feeds, so people know when I have updated my sites or pictures, and I know when people have updated their stuff. I spend a lot of time communicating with "tech savy" people, who by definition use the latest options and means of communication, but I have noticed an interesting shift amongst the other people that I communicate with:

My wife had to head back to the UK at short notice as her father was ill and although she was taking her Notebook with her, she was concerned that a) she wouldn’t have much time to use it and b) her parents only had a dial up connection. She decided that she would unsubscribe to all the news bulletin notification services that sent her email summaries to her email each day. This prompted quite an interesting conversation as to why she still used this method of receiving her news items rather than through RSS feeds. My wife is not an "early adopter" of technology and tends to stick with what she knows works for her. She has a tendency to resist change initially, but once she gets into it she uses it frequently. It seems like she finds the news bulletins useful but a little stressful when they build up in her inbox and she feels compelled and under pressure to read them. This is something I can certainly relate to as I have a similar issue keeping up with podcasts, but I have at least sorted the problem out with my news type stuff through RSS feeds.

Compared to one of my good friends here in Spain though my wife is a real pioneer when it comes to current options! Just after she went back to the UK I had a discussion with my friend who thought that podcasts where a waste of time, and didn’t know what RSS feeds where. Again as background Spain is an incredibly traditional country, that retains it’s cultures and traditions more than, for example, the UK and the States. I love this. My friend (who is under 30) uses a PC at work but doesn’t have a PC at home – and that is not at all unusual amongst the Spanish friends that I have here. He likes to read the paper in the morning whilst he has his coffee. Now I love to buy a paper on a Sunday morning and sit in the marina drinking coffee for a couple of hours. However I don’t this to get the news. I can’t remember the last time that I bought a paper for the news. I enjoy the articles and opinions, and certain feature writers, but I figure that the actual news in the news paper is so out of date by the time they are published that they should actually come up with a new name for them? Any suggestions? Back to my friend though. I have a strong feeling following our conversation that his view was based on lack of knowledge. I think he was aware of some podcasts and couldn’t see any interest for himself in them (which is totally understandable) but wasn’t aware of the concept of RSS feeds. We went on line to look at his favourite spanish sports paper and hey presto they have RSS feeds, so who knows maybe he will start using them. I mentioned to him how I thought podcasts could be used in a specific way for his business here in Spain and we are going to explore that together – so it isn’t true that "ignorance is bliss"! Over the weekend a mutual friend of ours was over from the UK, and whilst we IM, text and email him from time to time he didn’t know about RSS feeds either.

At the same time I have recently been doing some PC training for an elderly neighbor who is getting into email for the first time and it has been really interesting how archaic emailing has actually felt.They have never used a computer before and have done really well with the training so far BUT I am really frustrated on their behalf as to how much better it would be if they used the internet, IM and RSS more. Pretty much every question they ask me would be answered by one of these options. To be fair the relatively high cost of broadband here in Spain is a limiting factor at the moment.

Finally, I have been advising some friends to upgrade to broadband. This is tough when they approach it from the "What will broadband allow me to do better" angle. I found that I spent most of my time explaining what new things it would allow them to do. They IM with their family in the UK, but over dial up so can’t do a video conference, nor can they download the pictures that they get sent on a regular basis – just think how RSS and Flickr will change their world!

Out of interest I kept a log over the last couple of weeks to give me a view as to just how much time I spend on the various communication options. My profile is below. I would be interested in yours:

Email – 5%
RSS – 15%
Blogs – 25% (friends blogs, podcasts, Flickr etc)
IM – 40%
Skype – 10%
Text – 5% (SMS messages)

A noticeable "side effect" of this has been my relationship with my computer. In the past I tended to be a slave to the machine – I was always rushing back to check emails, and then getting bogged down in systematically going through each email. Now the Mac sits there, full of information, but a slave to me – when I want to go and find something out I do, if I want to focus on other things I do. If people are online when I am I chat with them, if not I catch up with them through their sites and blogs, and I let them do the same with mine. I am secure in the knowledge that there is a host of information and options awaiting me when I power up the Mac, but very rarely and email waiting for me to respond to or feel guilty about that I missed it!

I would have to agree totally with Jeff’s recent article on RSS feeds, as without doubt they have changed things significantly for myself and those that I communicate with. BUT you do need broadband, and that is something that you guys in the US take for granted sometimes.

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