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One app to rule them all? If only they could talk to each other

One of the advantages of age, apart from access to senior housing and a greater tolerance for a slight whiff of urine, is that I am able to remember a technology called email.

I have long thought I was in the vanguard, having had an email address since 1985. But, of course, HM Queen of Australia sent one in 1976, and apparently it was used at MIT in 1965. Before I was born. It is always hazardous to make claims about being the first at anything.

Email has had a lot of bad press. SPAM, the sheer volume, the late night intemperate reactive message, the message sent in error to the subject of our bitching, and of course, the rightly reviled carbon copy to all, or cc. Though the sneaky bcc blind copy sent without the target’s knowledge is right up there too!

Email has had bad press.

Email has had bad press.Credit:SMH

I have been thinking of email in fonder terms recently, as I confront an unexpected aspect of having a portfolio career. I am talking platforms. Not the shoes that were probably worn by all those trendy scientists surrounding the Queen when she sent that famous email in ’76, but rather the burgeoning number of different virtual work and collaboration “apps”.

In my own business, I have the choice of using cloud systems for files, music and photos, offered by Apple, Microsoft, Google, Dropbox, Zoom and probably a few others. For word processing I need a Microsoft account online.

If I do work with an education organisation, I have another Microsoft account to cover word processing and spreadsheets, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams plus a Learning Online system to deliver teaching and to organise marking, and yet other systems to deal with HR matters, and research matters. Then, if I do work with the tech start-up I am involved with, I need another Microsoft account for Teams, for Zoom, for Word and so on. For medico-legal work, I have yet other logins to access materials and information.

I write this column using Apple’s Pages app, but need to use MS Word when working in other modes. Files could be literally anywhere, OneDrive, iCloud, Google Cloud, on the laptop hard drive, the iPad hard drive, on my phone or down the back of the sofa.

In any one day, I might have to log into and out of accounts from the same provider, e.g. Microsoft, to access the same programs, e.g. Teams or Word, but for different organisations; I might have to use two different word processors, different spreadsheet applications, and attend meetings using one of at least five different apps – Zoom, Teams, Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime.

When it comes to messaging apps, it is a nightmare as message threads could be on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, text, Signal, WhatsApp, SnapChat, or, wait for it, good old email. It can literally take me five minutes to track down a conversation only a couple of days ago, trying to remember on what app it occurred. It’s nuts! It must pose a significant barrier to portfolio work. I cannot be the only one so troubled, and I think I am reasonably tech-savvy.

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