7 ways your world would be different without email

For many people, the Christmas season wouldn't be complete without watching "It's a Wonderful Life." The primary plotline of the movie revolves around the protagonist, George Bailey, who considers committing suicide on Christmas Eve. (Yeah, hard to believe that makes a good holiday movie!) His guardian angel intervenes and shows him how different the world would be if he had never existed. Does it convince him not to kill himself? It's a holiday movie, so what do you think?

I have no idea why I was thinking about this movie the other day, but I got to thinking about email and how different our personal and professional worlds would be if we woke up tomorrow into a world where email didn't exist. Most of us at one time or another have probably cursed the day that email was invented, whether it's due to an overcrowded inbox, and inadvertent "reply all," or simply the speed at which bad news can travel. In any case, our world would be very different without email, and here are seven ways -- both bad and good -- that it would be different.

You wouldn't recognize the web.

In the early days of the web, the major portals (AOL, Yahoo, MSN) gained users by offering email accounts. Without the traffic generated by the free email accounts, these sites might not have had the eyeballs required to keep their ad revenue flowing. In fact, there's every reason to believe one or more of them would have gone out of business without email. Fast forward to today, and sites like Facebook and LinkedIn would clearly be struggling, if not out of business, without email.

Forget the fact that your email address is part of your log-in to many social networks. These networks depend upon email to keep you engaged, to let you know about changes, or simply to remind you of how much value they provide to you. In a world without email, their connection to you becomes much more tenuous. In a world without email, many of the highest-traffic sites of today might not even still be around.

You wouldn't find out that your biggest client was extremely unhappy until you arrived at your office.

While it can be very frustrating at times that we're expected to be checking our work email at all hours of the day or night, the advance warning it can provide on a major client issue can be the difference between keeping that client or not. Let's say a critical shipment was due to reach your client by end of business day. Something happens, and it doesn't. A timely email that evening allows you to get to the bottom of the issue prior to the next work day. So instead of your day starting out with a call from an enraged client (and this is the first you've heard of the problem), you're able to get ahead of the disaster and be proactive the next morning with your client.

You wouldn't be sure that all the details on your online orders were correct until the shipment actually showed up at your door.

If you're like me, you save every purchase confirmation for your online purchases, scanning them first to make sure everything was in correct in regards to your order. Getting the wrong item or items delivered is aggravating, and having to return it makes the whole situation even more painful. Without email, there would be no immediate purchase confirmation for you to review. Every time you ordered something online, you'd just have to hope that the correct shipment showed up at your door. And that might make you less likely to make purchases online when there was no margin for error.

You would have to use overnight delivery every time you needed to get a document to someone right away.

Have you sent any documents via overnight delivery recently? If you have, then you know how expensive it is to send even the smallest document. And tomorrow isn't the same thing as "right now." Thanks to email, we are able to scan that very same document, attach it to an email, and send it right away for no cost. In a world without email, you're racing the clock every day to get your package picked up in time to get there tomorrow (or worse, you're driving the package and dropping it off). And to make matters worse, because there is no email, there's no delivery confirmation email, so you have to follow up with a phone call. Ugh.

If you're a business, your direct mail costs would increase dramatically.

Face it, every company with whom you do business that sends you monthly statements has been asking you to go paperless for a long time, and you probably have done so for many of them. It saves these companies an enormous amount of money to just send your statements via email at a fraction of a penny; neither printing nor postage costs with an email. For marketers, the savings are even greater from sending fewer catalogs and circulars through the mail. In a world without email, one of the few winners would be the U.S. Postal Service, as the volume of marketing messages sent via mail would go up dramatically, as would your direct mail costs. Email isn't only a much less expensive option; the ability to customize the messages makes it more effective too. Costs up, revenue down -- hardly a recipe for success.

You would enjoy your vacations more.

A world without email isn't all bad, however. The vacation I enjoyed the most in the last 10 years was a fishing trip in a remote area of Ontario. The fact that email couldn't reach me there certainly helped make that trip so enjoyable. Let's face it: Even on vacation, most of us are checking our work email accounts -- and not just reading emails, but also responding to them. In a world without email, we'd actually be able to leave work behind for a week or two. (We might have to get rid of mobile phones too.) Sure, you may walk back into a raging fire at work, but you'd feel really refreshed!

You couldn't make an ass of yourself with the click of a button.

This is something I touched on in my last column. Most of us either have done it ourselves or we know someone who has mistakenly hit "reply all" to an email and insulted a large number of people all at once. Once you hit send, that baby is gone, and there is nothing you can do but apologize. In a world without email, there really is no other way to blow yourself up so quickly and with so many people. You can't hit "reply all" to a paper memo.

Of course, we can't put the genie back into the bottle even if we wanted to. Email is here to stay, for better or worse. Personally, I'm really glad email came into being. (After all, it's what I do for a living.) For most of us, email has made shopping, sharing, engaging, and entertaining easier than ever before. It's the most powerful marketing tool in the universe. Sure, I can imagine a world without email -- but I don't want to live there!

Chris Marriott is the vice president of services and principal consultant at The Relevancy Group.

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