Stop typing and start talking - How email has killed conversation

Having a conversation is far preferable to emailing - and yet we so rarely do it these days.

Having a conversation is far preferable to emailing - and yet we so rarely do it these days. - Credit: PA

Email, supposed to save time and simplify communication, has become one of life's to-do list's most cumbersome irritants.

In-boxes have become daily burdens, overwhelming, ever-expanding and constantly prodding for attention.

By the hour, we're bombarded with a cocktail of the invited, unsolicited and random demanding attention and regular editing to prevent the hourly trickle growing to a daily deluge.

Workers spend the equivalent of a day a week tending their in-boxes, scything through the bindweed of spam for the 10pc we really need.

Email is strangling efficiency and becoming the biggest killer of time and productivity. It is also affecting our health and anxiety levels.

The daily in-box flood can especially disturb the elderly, who feel people and companies they have never heard of are personally targeting them.

'How do they have my email address? I didn't give it to them,' my mother said.

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They find deleting email more difficult than throwing away posted marketing. Email feels more personal, which, I suppose, is the point.

Smart phones have made any escape impossible. Wherever the phone goes, email goes too, a constant invisible nudge: 'Look at me. You could be missing something important.'

'Just checking emails' on holiday or a family day out can turn into hours of replying, deleting, flagging up, prioritising and filing.

But it can't be left behind because it means too much catch-up time later.

In a generation, we've morphed from a population who mostly groaned at having to string more than three words together on a birthday card into night scribes, emailing, texting, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram.

I wonder if any under-25 has ever used their mobile phone to actually make a call or can make a call?

We tell our children off for texting each other when they're sitting side by side on the sofa, but think nothing of emailing a colleague sitting two desks away.

'Talk to each other,' we yell, confiscating phones, making empty threats about locking away phones, and cancelling contracts (tip for grandparents – Mary Berry locks away all her grandchildren's devices on visits for conversation to flow).

But we would never dream of running up the stairs to the next floor to discuss something face to face with a colleague.

We wouldn't even pick up a phone. That would mean an actual conversation. Email has killed conversation. Why pick up a phone when you can send an email?

I'd be a squillionaire if I'd taken a pound from everyone who justifies conversation dodging with: 'I like an email trail', which means they have to cover their own backside to prove they did what they should. A sad reflection of today's workplace.

And we're not even particularly good at emails. It's easy for the written word to be misunderstood and it can take four or five exchanges to understand what was meant first time around. A conversation would give clarity and direction in a fraction of the time.

Businesses are now developing programmes to wean their staff off their email addiction and switching off their internal servers.

Technology can't be reversed but companies believe they must take action to tackle what they blame for sucking productivity, creativity and focus from their businesses.

So, after years of employers not wanting employees to waste time actually talking to each other, they are now telling them to move away from their desks and walk to see colleagues for face-to-face conversations.

How novel. They'll be bringing back the tea trolley next.

A housing trust in Cheshire says 40pc of staff time is spent on internal emails and has had a two-year programme to 'detox' staff.

Email had become 'an over-used and abused communication tool. Instead of being one of many ways to hold conversations it has become the default tool,' its chief executive said.

It will be a hard habit to break but a 'phone before keyboard' policy throughout companies, internally and externally, from the top down would be a huge positive step.