June 19, 2024


Epicurean Science & Tech

when to send a Slack vs. an email.

4 min read

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We need more rules on the internet.

I’m not talking about regulation or liability or online civility or anything important and big-picture like that.

I’m talking about the absolute least consequential parts of the internet possible. Specifically, things like when to send a Slack or text and when to send an email.

To me, the rule there is obvious: Send a Slack for a time-sensitive question or for chitchat. Send an email for anything that I can get back to you on later, especially if it’s going to require a certain amount of brainstorming or research. If you send me a Slack that asks me to come up with a new idea or asks me for my reaction to a document, I’m going to see the notification, tell myself I’m going to think about it for a minute before returning to it, and then promptly forget. Once that notification is cleared, so is my mind.

And yes, I know there are ways to handle this: I can send reminders, I can check the DMs tab. I could write things down with a fountain pen in a charming notebook. But like many people, I use my email inbox as a to-do list. Once I’ve handled the email, I archive it; until then, it lives in my inbox, constantly reminding me that I owe someone a response.

This is part of a greater challenge, of course, about figuring out how to reach out to someone, through which portal. There are communications methods that seemingly require the recipient to snap to—like a text sent outside of office hours—and there are ways that say, “I know I’m asking you to do something, but it  can wait for a bit,” like an email. Like Slack vs. email, deciding which portal to use—whether to text or DM on Twitter or write a letter or call or, hell, send a telegram—requires us to think, “Am I sending this in the way that’s most convenient for me, or in the way that will work best for them?” (My former Slate colleague Tim Noah wrote in 2016 that you should only call a person without at least a heads up if you’ve seen them naked.)

Philosophizing about the overwhelming number of ways we can contact one another aside, “immediate vs. longer-term” is so clearly the best way to determine what warrants a Slack vs. an email. But I am constantly astounded that other people fail to acknowledge the superiority of this approach. And it’s made me wonder: What rules do other people have that I unknowingly and regularly violate?

If you were the boss of internet behavior—and again, we are talking about the lowest-stakes stuff, not fixing Facebook or solving the broadband internet crisis—what rules would you impose on the rest of us? The more quotidian, the better. Tweet them to @FutureTenseNow (and, if you don’t already, follow us!), and I’ll post the best ones soon.

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