12 Disadvantages of Email

Updated on January 8, 2019
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A former teacher of digital media studies in the UK, Paul currently lives in Florida where he works as a freelance writer.

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Email has become so commonplace in homes and offices, it is now difficult for most of us to recall life without it. Many jobs now involve a large portion of the day reading, writing and responding to emails.

Although email has transformed communication in some very useful ways, not all the changes that email has brought are positive. In this article I list 12 disadvantages of email.

12 Email Downsides

  1. Impersonal
  2. Misunderstandings
  3. Heat of the Moment
  4. Malicious Use
  5. Accidents Will Happen
  6. Information overload
  7. Spam
  8. Viruses
  9. Time Consuming
  10. Pressure to Respond
  11. Insecure
  12. Overlong Messages

I explain each point in more detail below.

1. Impersonal

Emails are less personal compared to many other forms of communication, such as talking over the phone, or meeting face to face.

2. Misunderstandings

It is easy for misunderstandings to occur with email, as there is only text and no tone of voice, or body language to provide context. Jokes can be mistakenly taken seriously. A well-meaning but quickly typed email can come across as rude, or aggressive. Short descriptions and abbreviations can easily be misinterpreted.

3. Heat of the Moment

An email fired off in the heat of the moment can cause a lot of anger or upset, especially in the workplace, or in a romantic relationship. Even worse, emails are impossible to delete or edit once sent.

4. Malicious Use

Emails can be sent anonymously, which means that they are sometimes used maliciously to bully or upset people. Likewise, they can used to spread gossip, or false information.

5. Accidents Will Happen

It is relatively easy to make catastrophic mistakes with email by clicking the wrong button. For instance, you can accidentally send sensitive information to multiple people rather than just a single, intended recipient. Alternatively, you can send an email to the wrong person by not realizing that you’ve clicked the wrong name in an address list. In the workplace, mistakes like these can result in big trouble, even getting fired.

6. Information Overload

In part because emails are so easy to send to multiple people, they can create information overload. It's a huge problem in many modern workplaces, where there is a lot of information moving around and impossible to tell if an email is important or relevant without opening and reading it. Emails require constant organization and upkeep. Returning from vacation to find hundreds of unopened emails in your inbox is one of the worst feelings in the world .

7. Spam

Although the situation has improved in recent times, there are still major problems with spam and unsolicited advertising arriving via email. It takes time and energy to control and can easily become overwhelming.

8. Viruses

Email is one of the commonest ways for viruses to travel and infect devices. The email might come with a virus, or the virus might be in an attached document. Infection normally occurs when the recipient clicks a link or opens the infected attachment. Infected emails may come from an anonymous source, or appear to come from a trusted friend or contact.

9. Time Consuming

Reading, writing and responding to emails can take up vast amounts of time and energy. Many modern workers spend most, if not all their days just dealing with them. This work can be dull and sometimes it feels like there are few tangible benefits.

10. Pressure to Respond

People get annoyed if you don't answer their emails, they think you are ignoring them, so there is a constant pressure on you to keep opening them and then respond in some way.

11. Insecure

Emails are a common target for hackers seeking sensitive information, such as financial, political, or personal messages or documents. There have been many high profile cases recently that have shown how vulnerable email is to data theft. It's also the case that so many emails fly around in a large organization that it can be difficult to know who has what information, another security issue.

12. Overlong Messages

Email is a form of communication that is generally intended to be brief. Some people seem unaware of this and write overlong messages that take up far more time than necessary.

One look at an email can rob you of 15 minutes of focus. One call on your cell phone, one tweet, one instant message can destroy your schedule, forcing you to move meetings, or blow off really important things, like love, and friendship.

— Jacqueline Leo

3 Email Facts

  1. More than 3.5 million emails are sent per second.
  2. Over 294 billion emails are sent and received daily.
  3. An excess of 100 trillion emails are sent annually.

I was discussing the use of email and how impersonal it can be, how people will now email someone across the room rather than go and talk to them. But I don't think this is laziness, I think it is a conscious decision people are making to save time.

— Margaret J. Wheatley

© 2019 Paul Goodman

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