Is email the new telegram?

I love email. Whoever invented it – kudos to you, good sir or good woman. The only downside to email, as I see it, is it takes away some of the charm and personalization from sending letters and cards, which we know I love doing.

Add in the ability to attach any old document, and it finally made faxing obsolete, much to the relief of Administrative Assistants everywhere. (And yet….people still use facsimiles. Can someone explain?)

The speed of owl – pre email.

I have several email accounts programmed on my phone so I can check them immediately. I don’t like having emails sitting in my inbox. I like being up to date on keeping it cleared out and having received whatever news or information someone has passed on to me.

I still find the follow-up question, “Did you get my email?” really funny. Yes, of course I got it, it was sent at the speed of light, practically.

But here is where I’m getting hung up with email. Unless a person is anal retentive like myself, there is no guarantee that sending an urgent email message – especially a personal one – will reach the intended recipient in a timely manner. There is no controlling when someone is going to actually open, read, and process your message.

For that reason, I find Read Receipts to be useless, not to mention annoying. Just putting that out there for any Read Receipt freaks. I have a habit of declining to send one when prompted unless I feel it’s absolutely necessary. I’ll read the email and respond because I’m a responsible person – it’s none of your business when I open the email.

I know this seems counterintuitive but getting an email back saying, “John has read your email” doesn’t let me know that he’s available to talk about it, so if anything, it just adds to my anxiety.

So what tops the angry red flagged email? (Or if you’re Microsoft Outlook, you place a bar at the top that says, “This message was sent with High Importance.”)

Because urgent emails don’t always reach a person immediately, this is why the telephone remains in the top spot for efficiency. I was always in awe when, in old movies, a person would have a telephone call from someone in the middle of dinner at a restaurant. That’s some good communication right there, if someone knows to reach you mid-meal. In my pre cell phone years, I didn’t tell any one person where I was going to be at all times. I even liked being unreachable sometimes.

But with cell phones came……text messages!


When texting first came out, I thought, “How is this going to revolutionize a thing?” This was back when IMing was still kinda neat, so IMing by phone seemed weird. I’m glad I came around. Text messaging is your friend. I know I’m BFF with it.

If you are a normal person who carries your phone everywhere with you and receives (if not sends) text messages, then this, to me, is the best way to reach someone if s/he can’t pick up the phone.

However. It’s all contingent on actually remembering to bring your phone with you. I have forgotten my cell phone once or twice in my life. I felt naked and ill at ease the entire day. But someone like my boyfriend, whose cell phone is an afterthought, forgets his with ease. This wouldn’t bother me so much except that as is the case with Murphy’s Law, it will be the same day that I need to reach him post haste. It never fails.

When that happens, I’m forced to resort to the angry, all caps subject line and send him an email with something like: PLEASE OPEN AND READ IMMEDIATELY!!!!

And then I have to sit and pray – pray that the email servers don’t delay, pray that his email box is open, pray that he SEES it, assesses that it’s an actual emergency, and then responds. There’s just entirely too much praying going on. You have to sit – or pace – and with bated breath, hope that you can rely on this other person to take your electronic note seriously enough to respond quickly. Otherwise, you’re stuck, and then it’s Plan B time.

I’m not a fan of Plan B.

Whether we like it or not, email is slowly becoming the equivalent of what used to be the telegram. It still has its place and is chock full of merit but I think with our reduced attention spans and desire to be freed from the inbox, it is still a silent scream amongst the other avenues we have available to us to get someone’s attention.

All this having been said, perhaps what we really need is to get this whole WUPHF thing going. If I got a text message, fax, phone call, IM, email, Facebook notification and tweet all at the same time? I’d definitely be annoyed enough to respond.


  1. Zoe, this is funny. I guess I’m either an old coot or just not very important, because I never text. Or maybe I’m extraordinarily lucky and don’t have emergencies. When I want to reach someone right away, I call them. If they don’t answer I leave a message. And I’m a hypocrite because sometimes I hit receipt requested on my emails, but I get annoyed when people mark emails to me that way! I texted my brother recently because my Mom said it was the best way to reach him, and my one sentence took me 10 minutes to type in.

    • Haha! I love your comment. I know a handful of people (well, maybe two?) who don’t text. I don’t think it downplays importance to not text. What I do reinforce is memorizing a handful of phone numbers for your emergency contacts because you never know if you’ll be SOL and not have your cell phone and you gotta call someone. Perhaps even on one of those old pay phone thingies of yesteryear.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one annoyed by read receipts!

  2. I, too, wondered what texting (or SMS in other parts of the world) was all about and didn’t think it would amount to very much. Now I send thousands a month, often times having conversations via text. That has its own problems and irks me, but I digress. I am someone who has read receipts automatically on at all times. Not for personal email, though. Working in an environment that’s largely regulatory, it’s important to know if/when someone has read an email. Whether they actually do anything about it or not doesn’t really matter as long as I know it didn’t go unopened and have it for tracking purposes. Therefore, I detest the people that knowingly say “no” to a read request and love the people that have set their computer to say “yes” all the time without asking (even though I don’t follow my own rules :-P). For personal email, though? Read receipt? Ha! I find delivery receipt even more comical.

    • Scott, it sounds like it’s a very good thing we don’t work together!

      I don’t know if I’ve ever received a read receipt request for a personal email but it would be laughable.


  4. I love email. I love text messaging. Both because I actually hate talking on the phone. Like HATE it. Unless I love someone more than the air in my lungs (and sometimes even then), or if something horrible has just happened, there is rarely a reason to chat live via analog. (I know. I’m a bad person.)
    Also? I think getting a WUPHF would make me feel more than a little stabby.

  5. Zoe, very interesting post. You make valid points and made me think a bit. I personally have a love/hate relationship with email and I practice total avoidance with voice mail. Right now the best way for people to reach me is texting or writing FB wall post (not a DM cause that is like email to me LOL). It is kind of sad, when you think about it, but it’s the new normal.

    • Amanda, thanks for coming back! I keep reading about people wanting to totally disengage from email. Too time consuming and all that. I think the short and sweet messages are here to stay. Twitter had no idea just how big of an idea 140 characters was going to be.

      What really prompted my post was that my bf forgot his cell phone and I had absolutely no way of reaching him other than screaming at him via email to get back to me ASAP. He rarely checks Twitter and he has notification emails from FB turned off. I was backed into a corner! The amount of time it took him to get back to me was the electronic equivalent in time of a telegram 😉

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