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Email isn’t people. Email is one way people get a message across. And it’s over-saturated.

If Email Is People, Can I Mark You As Spam?

Whitney Hess wrote an interesting piece about email today. She was responding to the tide of “email is the worst,” and the “stop checking email so much” manifestos that have populated the internet like Inbox Zero and GTD.

Her thesis was the following:

I want to stop the email slander. Instead I want to recognize it for what it is: the people who make up my life. Best friends, strangers, colleagues, role models, mentees, prospects. Even the bills, even the mailing lists, even the surveys! There are human beings behind every one of them. Regardless of intention, regardless of quality, regardless of relevance — there they are, right in front of me.

So let’s embrace email. Let’s embrace each other. And respond.

While I understand where Whitney is coming from, I disagree with the conclusion. Email isn’t people. I agree that most of the time, we owe people the respect of a response when they take the time to reach out to us in most communication forms. It’s important to never lose touch with the people that surround us, and that means staying in communication. That means responding.

But email isn’t people. We can’t treat email the same way we treat our friends or or coworkers or our significant others. That’s a trap.

Email is simply one way (out of many) people have learned to communicate with one another. Not all ways of communicating are equal. And, depending on the context, we prefer that people communicate with us in certain ways over others.

For example, we don’t yell at our significant others all day because it’s disrespectful and emotionally draining. In fact, we modulate our voices a lot based on the context of the exchange. Everything from a whisper to a normal voice is fair game depending on the context and the message.

The medium of communication is intrinsic to the message. Sweet nothings are whispered, not shouted, because they are more intimate that way.

That’s an extreme example to establish that people have a lot of nuanced ways to communicate with one another. The internet is simply an expression of that. We have as many ways of communicating digitally as we do with our body language and our voice.

Think about it.

We don’t send an hour’s worth of text messages when one 5 minute phone call will do. And we don’t write on a Facebook wall something that was private between two people. I don’t tweet you to ask if you want to go on a date, and you don’t send a fax to ask me if I want fries with that.

Let’s say that two people were sending each other sexy photos as part of their flirtation. That goes somewhere like Snapchat or Pair, not on HackerNews, right?

There’s a context for every communication, and a proper medium for every message.

So back to email. Email is just one form of communication people use to get a message across. It’s one form among many.

Where email went wrong was it became the go-to for too many different types of messages, not all of which have the same value or urgency. Email is all the things. Email is everything from appointment reminders to contract proposals to technical questions to “can you help me with my startup?” to “please pay your credit card bill.”

Not all of those are of equal import. Not all of those deserve a response every time.

To keep up with all the messages, we have to be more efficient with our emailing habits, and train the people who email us to help us with that. That means brevity, and not answering emails when the email probably shouldn’t have been sent in the first place.

The volume and diversity of messages we receive via email is incompatible with the amount of time we should spend on email in a day. If we were to spend tons of time with each email, we’d lose touch with all those other ways we connect with people. And those other ways of communicating, like talking, are much more powerful methods of connecting with people than email will ever be.

The problem isn’t that we’re disrespectful of one another via email if we don’t respond to everything. Sometimes no response IS the response. The problem is that email still needs some innovation to add context to the medium so that the inbox cues us to the importance of a message. Email has a ton of potential to be nuanced and subtle, but it needs to give us more to work with than an inbox and some folders.

People aren’t email. We can’t simply “archive” our friends, or “mark unread” and come back to them later.

Well, we could, but they might not stay friends with us very long.

And we can’t treat every person in our life the same way either. Our close friends get more attention than people we don’t know. Some people deserve a response, and sometimes the best choice is to not respond to someone and simply move on with our day.

People are people. Email is a fledgling way that people connect with each other.

Email needs to adapt to us. Not the other way around.

The Things That I Believe

I keep a journal that I hand write when I need to process life in intense bouts. I’ve got a mentor responsible for massive progress in my life in the past year who basically forced this upon me early on, and Thank God she did. It works to work my thoughts out into words, and my feelings into digestible chunks so I recommend this to people who are facing some inner decision.

Going back through my journal in prep for new years, I came across a list of 33 things that I wrote at one of my last trips to a monastery. I wrote them in a stream of consciousness, but had the foresight to number them, and upon re-reading them, all but one or two were good enough (and non-specific enough) to be worth offering up to the small, *but growing* community of people who tune into my blog.

The list now has a permanent home at austingunter.com/beliefs, where it will probably evolve over time. For now, here are the 33.

  1. Every person (entrepreneur) has the ability to see the visions in their imagination become reality. You can’t imagine it if you can’t make it real.
  2. Forget your 5-year plan. Focus on being happy today, right now, doing work you love, with people you admire. In 5 years, make sure you’re just as stoked to be alive. The rest will work out.
  3. Life is too short to not grow constantly. Be around people who push you to be better. Get rid of those who hold you back.
  4. Startups should create real value and make the world a better, wealthier place in real human terms.
  5. The world’s economies and cultures will be saved by the people willing to strike out and start something new.
  6. Companies must encourage their employees to be entrepreneurial. Autonomy and independence are key to productivity, creativity, and innovation in the 21st Century.
  7. Your customers will no longer be “sold to.” But, if you’re nice, they’ll let you help them out while they “buy.”
  8. Never publicly disparage anyone you work with or have worked with, including your customers. Every experience should teach you something, so be grateful.
  9. Scrappy startups, when successful, stop being the underdog. This means people root for you a bit less. The more awesome you were along the way, the easier you made it for people to continue rooting for you.
  10. Self-awareness will unlock the keys to your potential. Be aware of your station and act accordingly, but always keep an eye out for new opportunities.
  11. Fast-growing companies evolve quickly. That means the employees must be ready to do the same. Bake this into your culture, and hire accordingly.
  12. Ask: “How does the company need me to evolve so it can grow?” and then ask, “How can I stay humble and willing to change along the way?”
  13. It’s just a game. Don’t take it personally.
  14. Grace is more powerful than Justice. Offer Grace and it will be returned to you.
  15. Trust people. You have more in common than you could ever realize.
  16. When a person violates your trust, act appropriately. Don’t let yourself get hurt unnecessarily.
  17. No one will seek you out to mentor you. If you want mentorship, create your own mentors.
  18. Believing you’ll be successful is the first step to actually being successful.
  19. Believe that things will work out for the best, and somehow they always will.
  20. Know that the universe is conspiring to do good things for you, and then let it.
  21. Know when it’s time to get out. Don’t overstay your welcome when you’re needed at the next stop.
  22. Trust yourself.
  23. It’s not about what you do. It’s about who you are. Don’t worry if that’s hard to believe. We all spend our entire lives trying to learn that same thing.
  24. Believe that you can always figure it out. You will.
  25. Dress well, and learn the subtleties of etiquette. This will help you stand out to those who have already been successful.
  26. Remember, everyone around you can be your teacher.
  27. When you’re broke, find someone with even less than you and give them more than you can afford. Money will flow back.
  28. It’s often not your fault, but it’s always your responsibility. This is the most empowering belief in the world.
  29. Make zero excuses.
  30. If you can inspire yourself with your belief, you can go as far as you want to.
  31. Believe in something. It will be the thing that saves you.
  32. Love yourself. This can be harder than it sounds.
  33. Learn to forgive yourself.