In a sense there’s nothing to do about e-mail. We have almost completely overcome the use of e-mail to communicate with people. E-mail is this decentralized, open service. It lets you use anything you like to send or to receive messages you can display and organize in any way you like and keep, or delete, at your leisure. We couldn’t keep using a scheme like that. We have to communicate by direct messages channeled through a social-media tech corporation. This lets them sell us quarrels and procedurally generated t-shirts.
But there are still purposes to what e-mail remains. Understanding them will let us understand this doomed system. What their purpose is depends on the context of the e-mail. For example, the first purpose of work e-mails is showing that you are working on whatever you were supposed to be working on. And how you can’t do that unless other people to work on whatever it is they are supposed to work on. The second purpose of work e-mail is to compile lists of take-out orders complicated enough that they can never be ordered or fully paid for. Past that work e-mail lets us know what silly Internet pastime is annoying the IT department. They want very much to tamp it down now.
The first kind of work-based e-mails is easiest to answer. In response to any e-mail of this type, assert good progress. And that you’ve been enjoying some breakthroughs. Still, though, you have to admit that completion is running behind deadline. But allow that it would be easier if not for the efforts of some other person. It’s better off leaving vague “who”, in case the boss tries to work out who. If you work for a large enough corporation, you can leave hints that point to a person who does not, and perhaps never has, existed.
The second kind you can answer by making sure that there is always an extra tub of sweet and sour sauce left over once the lunch is delivered. This lets everyone enjoy the unsettling feeling they have the wrong order. The exception to this is when everyone is ordering Chinese food for lunch. In this case there should be one missing tub.
The third kind of work e-mail is obsolete because it turns out people have phones. The IT department is still very cross about things, but they always will be. It makes them happy. Promise them you’ll never ever use your work computer to play Farmville. If you want them to smile, add that you’re swearing off Friendster, YikYak, and what the heck, Apple eWorld.
Another once-popular form of e-mail was the mailing list. These were created to let people who all liked one thing share talk about something entirely else. The working process here was to have one person notice a fact, real or imagined. When they determine the rest of the list has not sufficiently acknowledged it, they send it on to the list. The response here is then to contradict the fact as being either irrelevant or untrue. This has one correct response, which in the busy days of a mailing list would be sent by five people. That response is that no, the fact has been amply discussed in earlier discussions on the list. And furthermore this could be proven by consulting the archives, as soon as someone finds them.
The alternate use for a mailing list was to have people announce personal moments. These could include a marriage, a graduation, the discovery that one has a child, the announcement one is leaving the mailing list forever except that this time they mean it, or that someone else has been born. There are two stages to answering these. In the first stage send congratulations. in the second, send a cascade of the same twelve puns these threads always use. But you’re forgiven if you slack off. No one person has to respond to any particular messages. This is why every mailing list died out around 2014.
Commercial e-mails are sent by corporations. They believe that your staying in a hotel means now you need someone to suggest reserving a hotel room to you. You need this at least four times a day, so far, based on how little you do hotel-room-reservation-ing. It has to be some kind of insecurity. They realize that, like, a corporation isn’t even a thing. It’s the imaginary friend of someone with capital. Shake your head at the folly of humanity but do not encourage them any.
There are a number of other purposes for e-mail. This number is four.