7 Reasons to NOT use e-mail for urgent messages

Reason #4: The synchronicity of e-mail as a sender

Another aspect of the media richness framework discussed in this series of blog posts is the synchronicity of e-mail.

As you can see in the diagram below, when using instant messages, e-mail and voicemail, we are using an asynchronous mode of communication. That means we can communicate with others without both of us having to be available ‘at the same time’.

You see, when you send an e-mail, it’s received by a mail server at your end, stored for a period of time and then forwarded along the internet to your recipient. It arrives at the recipient’s mail server (usually amazing quickly, but not always!), where it’s stored until the recipient receives it in their in-box (most e-mail goes immediately from server to mailbox but not always – some may have a delayed send/receive interval or may only allow e-mail to download from the server when they manually click ‘send/receive’).

The periods of time that various servers retain your message before forwarding it along are usually very brief, but there’s not really any guarantee that they will be. There could easily be any of a number of various and legitimate mail server delays along the path your e-mail will take to get to your recipient. That doesn’t mean the system is broken, that’s just how the system works. And of course, on top of that, your recipient could simply be away from their in-box, or choosing to check e-mail less frequently than it might happen to suit you.

Instead, we need to realise that if something is truly urgent, then we would do better to choose a more appropriate tool to communicate our message. This could be a phone call, or walking around to see someone face-to-face. These are ‘real time’, ‘live’ or ‘synchronous’ modes of communication, better suited to urgent messages.

The reality is, that if you really need someone to get your message almost immediately, then e-mail is the wrong tool! If your message is urgent, you can’t count on e-mail. Now, you can try using it that way and, most of the time, it’ll be fine. But you can’t count on it! You can just about guarantee, that if you’re using an asynchronous mode of communication to communicate a synchronous (ie: urgent) message, at some stage it is going to be delayed and usually when you least expect it! That’s called Murphy’s Law!

So that’s the fourth of the 7 reasons to NOT use e-mail for urgent messages. Our next blog post will look at the synchronicity of e-mail and the impact it has for you as a receiver.

All the best,

Steuart Snooks