I used to be OK with email. Even in my day job I didn’t get much of it, I was one for picking the phone up and talking to people instead. My relationship wasn’t all roses, but it was certainly maintainable. Then something changed. During the pandemic, email shifted. Evolving into something else entirely, and I wonder where it’s going.

When shops were closed, businesses slowed to a crawl and our internal communication not yet ready for the word of Slack channels, my inbox began to explode. Every company wanted my attention, had new offers for me to explore, and of course all the conversations we had in person went somewhere else.

Email used to be a place where you had conversations, but as conversations have moved to text and DMs, it’s increasingly become a place where you store receipts, arrange appointments, collect announcements, and now, receive newsletters. — Jack Shafer

If we want to look at why this is the case, of course I asked for these emails. I said yes, it was OK for my bank to keep me updated about their new products. Agreed that the company that I bought flowers from 3 months ago could let me know when my next anniversary is, but I didn’t expect this. What was once the electronic version of posting a note to a friend is now a battleground for my attention, and also where I get my news.

That is because almost all of my favourite journalism is now delivered into my inbox. Personalised and funded by me from the writers that I love (Galaxy Brain is seriously the best). Newsletters were the biggest tech boom of 2020, and I love it, but looking at this objectively, how can these two things exist side by side in my inbox. The solution may be to use something like Hey, the service I was obsessed with for a hot minute. It lets me separate everything out, but I am not convinced that’s good enough.

None of us want email to be this complicated. Granted, I can unsubscribe from as much stuff as possible, but I do like the occasional sale email and tempting bargain waved in front of my face. I can’t give up on well times emails about events I want to enter again this year and reminders for birthdays. I shouldn’t have to choose between what goes where because email now hates me. This is without even talking about corporate email.

The relentless things keep popping into Outlook all day, every day, trying their damn hardest to distract me from getting things done. Gone are the days I can leave the app minimised on my desktop because some time recently we seem to have all unconsciously agreed that email must be answered straight away. Nothing comes after work email either. You can all move to Slack or Teams as much as you like, but that just means you’ve got two things to check now because no one stops sending damn emails! All. The. Time.

I can’t figure out what email is now. It’s a weird mixture of first class journalism and marketing neediness. I can deal with Social Media wanting my attention, what I can’t deal with is losing the most important communication channel I have outside of actual human contact. Help.