Hypothetical death match: E-mail vs. Web

You must give up one or the other - just play along with me now - so how do you intend to work and live the rest of your life?

Without the use of e-mail? Or without access to the Web?

Both will continue to exist; that's important to consider. And only you will be giving up one or the other. Not your friends, family, business associates or competitors. This is an academic exercise so there will be no cheating allowed. No instant messaging, text messaging or Web mail to substitute for e-mail. And no borrowing someone else's browser or hiring a personal valet to do your surfing.

Which one are you going to give up - and why?

Me? I'm giving up e-mail. My job would be unimaginably difficult without e-mail, but near impossible without access to the Web. Most of the communicating I do by e-mail could conceivably be accomplished by telephone (and what are those silly envelopes with stamps called again?). But I don't see any way to do my job without the Web, even though I'm old enough to have done it back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

Last week I put this unpleasant choice to the members of my e-mail list, the Buzzblog Brigade, and as you might expect, the Web pretty much kicked e-mail's backside - even though a sturdy minority put up a stirring defense of their in-boxes. No surprise there. What was surprising, however, was the number of respondents who cited the potential benefits of losing their e-mail privileges and the smaller subset that couldn't bring themselves to choose; it was almost as if they feared I had the power to actually take away their toys.

What follows are excerpts from some of the better replies and you can read a whole bunch more onlineE-. Let's start with the minority point of view. Perhaps my favorite defense of e-mail comes from George Grenley, whose rationale will tug at the heartstrings of all but the most jaded:

"My first thought was the same as yours; I'd give up e-mail," Grenley writes. "I could use stamps, after all. But I probably wouldn't. Truth is, I never wrote letters in the pen-and-ink days, not even to dear old Mom very often. E-mail has made me a better person; I keep in touch with old friends, as we all should."

"Give up the Web? It's great for shopping; I never go in stores anymore," he continues. "Amazon alone is a pretty good reason to have the Web. And the Web is great for scratching that intellectual itch. I settled a bet on the bone structure of monkeys once, thanks to Google and the Web. But in the pre-Web days I was an inveterate collector of catalogs, and so I managed to get much of what I needed, or at least decided I wanted, via catalogs and 1-800 ordering. I could get by with that again, if I had to."

"So, gimme e-mail, and take the Web. Mom will appreciate it."

Mark Loosli offers a more hardheaded defense of waving so long to the Web.

"Unlike you, I would give up Web access," he writes. "I work for a leasing company and do much of my financial and equipment research on the Web, so it would be difficult without it. But there are a number of avenues for the type of research I do. When it comes to e-mail, it has become much more than a true communications tool. By scanning documents I can send and receive contracts, financial reports, equipment audits, etc., that in the past were sent by overnight or by fax in a less timely and more expensive fashion."

The cost-benefit analysis works out quite differently for most, however.

"Web? E-mail? Web? E-mail? Sorry e-mail, you're toast," writes Bill Davies. "I would miss the convenience of instant contact around the world but there are alternatives and the operative word there is 'convenience'. The activities that I do on the Web could not in many cases be done in any other way."

Practicality was a theme repeated throughout the missives from those who say they just couldn't get by without a browser.

"This is an easy one - I'd give up e-mail in a heartbeat," writes Bill Dotson. "It would be a little difficult at first, but maybe the world would be a slightly better place if we were required to have actual, personal interactions now and then. . . . But I couldn't give up use of the Web. Information that used to take days, weeks, months or even years to uncover can now be discovered in a few minutes. Patching my computer or getting the latest drivers now takes just a few minutes, while the same task would have taken days or weeks in the past (if it was possible at all). Getting rid of e-mail would just send us back to a simpler time, when interpersonal skills were necessary to survive. Doing without the Web would simply be a return to the Stone Age - give me a stone tablet and chisel."

Howard Stewart also would give up e-mail, but adds: "I have a question. What happens to all the spam I get now? Would it build up in a spam queue somewhere until it reached a critical level where it would explode in a giant spam mushroom cloud and inundate all the computers worldwide? I would hate to be the cause of such a disaster but I couldn't work the way I do without the Web."

Fear not, for we have alerted Homeland Security.

John Huie wants to split the baby: "At work? . . . Gotta have my e-mail. . . . At home? . . . Gotta have my Web."

As mentioned, some members of the Brigade did back flips to avoid having to choose.

"No way, dude. Can't do it. I'd get the DT's really fast and have to be carried away in an ambulance. The ER would have to bring out a laptop with wireless so I could get my e-mail fix and do a little surfing," laments Ken Diliberto. "I don't know that I could give up either."

After more hemming and hawing, however, Diliberto says he would "probably give up e-mail," before adding, "enough of this suffering."

And finally, we'll end with a fellow who chose Door No. 3.

"That is quite a choice," says Keith Rosenberg. "Being an IT geek, both are critical to my job and I really cannot do without either. . . . So I would get rid of both and get a job as a vacation tester!"

There's always room for another point of view. The address is buzz@nww.com.

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