Message to the world: if you want to make sure that a message you have might for me reaches me in a proper and timely way… send it by email, not as a letter. Especially if you are a government agency or a supplier of a service or utility and expect some kind of response/action/payment from my side.
The circumstances of my personal and professional life have evolved in such a way that I spend large chunks of time in multiple locations. But that also implies that at times it can take a while before I am physically returning to any specific one of those locations – which can then be problematic should a letter containing an urgent message have arrived for example the day after I last visited that place. It would then take up to 2 weeks before I get to see the message. Whereas an email would be seen the within minutes or hours, depending of the time of day and day of the week.
In general, authorities and utility providers still consider a letter sent by post as the ‘official’ way to get in touch with the citizen/customer. So I would like to hold a plea to change the mindset towards a more digital approach of delivering messages. Or at least begin by registering email addresses in the databases and sending each message sent on paper also in a digital way. The step to paperless can then be made later. Fortunately, in a lot of cases it is already possible to opt out of receiving e.g. monthly or quarterly invoices on paper, but rather as a PDF (I’m still waiting for the first company that communicates honestly about this, though – they all package it as a way “to offer you, our valued customer, more freedom to personalize your relation”, when they actually mean “hey, this is really a great way for us to save costs”). Some ‘smaller players’ like my local insurance agent persist in a paper-only approach, but I do understand that for smaller organizations it is relatively more expensive to set up a properly working and secure infrastructure to send documents electronically.
While preparing for this blogpost, I made a count of the number of official physical addresses I have already resided at, and the number of email addresses I have used (as ‘main, all-purpose’ email address). Turns out the count was higher for physical addresses than it was for email addresses – in spite of the fact that I have had a stable youth and a divorce (she moved out, so I remained at the same address).
In fact I have had (not taking into account professional email) only had 3 email addresses. In the 1990’s I started with a Hotmail address (with underscores instead of dots, remember those?). The second one was provided by my local internet provider, which I considered at the time to be a better solution because it meant that my emails were stored on my local computer, and not on some cloud-based server controlled by a multinational. But that lead to problems when I decided to switch to another internet provider. Obviously the email address provided by my old provider could no longer be used. And as it was also the time when accessing email on mobile devices became very much mainstream (whereby having your emails stored on a local computer became more inconvenient again), I changed my mind about the cloud-based solutions and switched to the Gmail address I am still using today. As I described in an earlier post: I am currently quite comfortable with that, because I trust Google to keep my data secure from criminals, and I trust the EU to keep an eye on Google in terms of privacy issues.
For the future, I consider it very likely that I will still change one or more times to a different physical address, but not to a different email address. Well, that is not entirely true – I am willing to switch one more time. I would like to hold yet another plea: an official, secure, cloud-based email address should be provided to each citizen by government. Preferably on global level (not realistic, I know), probably on European or national level. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen any signs of that happening any time soon.