The Trouble with Email


It seems a little funny that, after commenting to rhugenwrites about emails I chose an article discussing just that: emails for communication. Pillet and Carillo even mention information overload in connection with emails. I found it most interesting that they referenced a trail which “revealed that when emails were completely turned-off, workers focused longer on their tasks, multitasked less, and experienced lower stress (Mark, Voida, Cardello, 2012)”. Mostly because I can absolutely believe it. They argue for alternative methods and discuss the development of habits. While I admit the math isn’t my thing (all those numbers!), I like the emphasis on how the users interact with the knowledge sharing tools (“habits”). They also call out that managers need to help users so they don’t revert back to old habits. I think this is also a good message because users will fear change – particularly if that change makes their job sound obsolete or unnecessary.

Goggins and Mascaro title their article “Context Matters”, which cannot be more appropriate to these studies. While Pillet and Carillo‘s studies were informative, they may not be relevant to the types of communities Goggins and Mascaro are describing. Rural communities are more isolated, and face different challenges. They point out that the virtual networks may go down more often, and may take longer to get back up. My workplace isn’t exactly rural, but even I’ve found that sometimes it’s easier to walk to someone’s desk and try to figure something out together than to play the email game. As Goggins and Mascaro are pointing out, there are multiple layers to “distance”, and not all of them are physical.

Hemsley and Mason show a different kind of information: “viral” information. This kind of information is an email a user would stop to read because the content is something they find interesting. Not only do they read it, but they share it – and that knowledge is shared at an extremely rapid rate. Don’t we wish all good knowledge would go viral! That when we found a solution to a problem everyone would want to share and celebrate! Alas, that is not the case. Context is just as important to Hemsley and Mason as it is to Goggins and Mascaro, because users make information “viral” based on interest. If the information isn’t interesting, it isn’t likely to be spread.

There’s another reason information may not go “viral”, as well. Trkman and Desouza point out that there are risks in knowledge sharing. While trust and reputation are important to knowledge sharing, organizations also know that sharing information can have a negative effect on these (and other) factors. Organizations need to understand their employees and how it impacts how coworkers share knowledge and interact. Creating a “culture of fear” (as Trkman and Desouza reference it) where users are afraid to share knowledge because what they know might be confidential or they are afraid of the consequences is detrimental to knowledge sharing. It is always best to be clear about what is confidential and what is not, and to understand the difference between deliberate and non-deliberate knowledge sharing impacts.


Words: 516


Goggins, S. P., & Mascaro, C. (2013). Context matters: The experience of physical, informational, and cultural distance in a rural IT firm. The Information Society, 29, 113-127. doi:10.1080/01972243.2012.758212

Hemsley, J., & Mason, R. M. (2013). Knowledge and knowledge management in the social media age. Journal of Organizatational Computing and Electronic Commerce, 23(1), 138-167. doi:10.1080/10919392.2013.748614

Pillet, J. C., & Carillo, K. D. A. (2016). Email-free collaboration: An exploratory study on the formation of new work habits among knowledge workers. International Journal of Information Management, 36(1), 113–125. doi:10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2015.11.001

Trkman, P., & Desouza, K.C. (2012). Knowledge risks in organizational networks: An exploratory framework. Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 21(1), 1-17. doi:10.1016/j.jsis.2011.11.001.


7 thoughts on “The Trouble with Email

  1. I absolutely agree with you about emails. I get a decent amount of emails at work everyday and it is hard sometimes to focus on what is the most important. It is easier for me to go to someone’s office or desk to talk to them face to face but only at the branch I am at. It is easier to email people if they are at any of the other branches, but I work in an urban environment in a library system that has 20 branches.


  2. I have a unique email set up — all via the Linux command line (e.g., see for the basics). Using various scripts and configuration files (e.g., and and, I only retrieve email once per hour for all my accounts, and so I don’t check it but once per hour, generally. It saves a bit of sanity. I don’t have email on my phone (except for Gmail, which I don’t use much and notifications are turned off for Gmail), and all notifications are silent. This also saves some sanity. Using mutt, I can reply to emails very fast — largely because it’s completely keyboard driven.

    I think I get less than the average number of emails for a professional. In the last 996 days, I’ve archived 19,414 emails (sent/received). Removing the number of summer days for two summers (still get email but volume is much less), this works out to a nearly 24 emails per day or about 19.5 emails / day if summer months are excluded. Of course, this doesn’t include the emails I’ve deleted. I delete a lot but I usually don’t read the ones I’ve deleted (various inapplicable listserv stuff from associations, etc.).


  3. That’s really interesting! I never knew you could do all that with your email. I personally don’t get that many emails yet, but I think that I will start getting more when I move to a full time position.


  4. Information overload is a very real thing. I wrote an entire paper on the fact that information overload is derailing consumers ability to be health literate. There are so much information out their, without enough restrictions and guidelines for the causal web surfer to adhere to it is no wonder why it has become such an issue.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s