The Music in Noise

The Advantages of E-Mail - 2020-05-08

I'm not sure if I've touched upon this subject before, but e-mail is perhaps my favorite means of communication, especially for in-depth discussions. Despite the surge in modern instant-messaging, and the continued reliability of snail-mail, I find e-mail to be the perfect middle-ground that suites my needs.

To start, comparing e-mail to snail-mail, we see that e-mail is... well, faster and more flexible. Sure, it's not nearly as personal as a hand-written letter, but it's nearly instant and much more appropriate for anything technology related - which seems to be most of what I or any other person does nowadays, mostly by sending links. What's more, it's also cheaper since you probably already have an internet connection - otherwise I'd wonder how you're reading this post.

But of course, nobody is really comparing e-mail to snail-mail anymore, but rather to the new means of instant-messaging. However, even in this regard I see several advantages to e-mail.

First and foremost, e-mail is a universal protocol. For those that may not understand what this means, notice how anyone with any e-mail service provider or any e-mail client can send an e-mail to another person and it arrives (mostly) the same. This is because the protocol used to send, receive, and format e-mails is standard and universal. Every e-mail client and provider has to follow that standard. They can add new features, but they must all support the same basic functionality. Compare this to instant-messaging programs where there are thousands of them, and most of them use their own protocols, which they don't even make public so others can develop applications to connect to their network. Instead, we're all forced to install several of these applications, and none of them function exactly the way we'd want them to. There have been efforts to create such a standard for instant-messaging, but overall it has failed. The best attempt at this is the IRC protocol.

Secondly, e-mail is made for larger messages. As you may have noticed, I like writing very long blocks of text. Especially when I am discussing a very complex subject. Not only that, but generally my ideas aren't very well organized, nor are they linear, so being able to type out an e-mail and go over it, edit, amend, etc. helps me to make a more coherent message. Also, because of the nature of e-mail, I'm less likely to get interrupted in the middle of writing a response.

Thirdly, it's easier to write more complex responses to an e-mail that touches upon various subjects. This can be done through in-line responses, and having multiple threads to the same conversation. This helps keep the conversation itself organized. Of course, not all clients support threading or make in-line responses easier, but there are those (good) clients that do.

Fourthly, in e-mail everything is pure text. From the header information, to the body of the e-mail, to the signature at the end, everything is done in pure text that you can read and edit (if your e-mail client allows you to). Sure, someone may choose to have their e-mail client write the e-mail in HTML - please don't do this, it's cancer, you should almost never need to do this - but even HTML is just markup text that can be (semi) readable.

Finally, e-mail is stable. Something that annoys me with a lot of instant-messaging programs is that they're always changing things, and since I'm forced to use their clients, I'm forced to accept their changes. With e-mail I use the mutt e-mail client, and that never changes. They may add support for some new things, but overall it's always the same.

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