Email's End?

Crossposted from

Every change in communications medium causes big changes in culture, since cuneiform, then writing were introduced. Email was a culture changer in the 90's. Now, email is being upstaged by social media. The Wall Street Journal reports, in an article, The End of Email?

In August 2009, 276.9 million people used email across the U.S., several European countries, Australia and Brazil, according to Nielsen Co., up 21% from 229.2 million in August 2008. But the number of users on social-networking and other community sites jumped 31% to 301.5 million people.

Things have changed. The net has grown much faster and email, which was born when we logged on with a screeching noise, slow phone line connection and paid by the minute, is now an "old" technology. Try to get your teen or twenty something to check it for your messages and you'll often get a reply-- "text me, or post to my facebook wall."   The Journal article likens the change to moving from checking in and out, in the "old days" of the 90's, to being awash in a constant "river" of connection.

You don't need to call your friend to see what he or she is up to because you can just check your Facebook social graph or the latest tweet to see where she is and what she's been up to.

"The young people today don't know how to talk," a 77 year old Jewish mother told me the other day. I corrected her. "Actually, they talk, but primarily using text messaging, instand messaging and facebook, myspace, and if they's a bit older, linkedin postings, with some tweets thrown in."

What the 77 year old perceived as a drop in communication is actually a change. A lot of the over 30 people who started on facebook signed on to stay in touch with their kids at college or to keep up with their kids in high school-- if the kids were willing to friend them.

But that was so 2006. Now, the social media tsunami has flowed much further and for some time, facebook's new sign-ups have been much older than the college students who got it started.

The new media-- facebook, twitter, instant messages, text messages from phones-- are more immediate and can be less intrusive. You don't need to write a summarizing report of your vacation or business trip. You will have posted to facebook or tweeted the trip, step by step.

Then there's spam. Email has become a major annoyance, in terms of the noise level. Spam filters remove 98% of the worst cialis and instant wealth offerings but it is still cluttered with so much chaff. Facebook lets you filter your social graph-- that river of information that comes to you from your "friends" and twitter lets you get VERY selective when you use search tools like tweetdeck to just look at tweets with keywords that interest you.

Email is not going to go away, just as snail mail has not disappeared. But technology is changing the way email plays a role. Younger people are treating email like they do newspapers-- they don't pay much attention. And over 30's need to understand that the means of communication are moving quickly into "the river."

The new, "always on" technologies like cable, fios and satellite web access have been game changers. Muhammad in Peshawar can gmail instant message me and we can have a conversation that isn't slowed down by email's characteristics. I can also keep on writing my article without having to do the more intense phone interaction. (The phone is so dead for many under 30's. They much prefer the less demanding, less attention intensive texting.)

With the social graph and links within tweets on twitter an comments on blog sites, the experience of communication is less time sensitive and more media rich. It's also more random. In a world that has been ratcheting towards shorter and shorter attention spans, with more and more people being characterized as ADD, such randomness is actually more attractive and flexible to the roaming, distracted communication consumer. Maggie Jackson, in her book, Distracted, suggests that this distraction and loss of focus could impend a coming dark age. But it may also portend a growth in connections, in relating using new tools and ways.

The challenge, Jackson told me, in a radio show interview, is to maintain depth of communication and connection. If my 77 year old writes off the changed means of communication as the ending of communication, then there's a problem. If she can learn to re-connect with the new tools-- texting, facebook, she may find that she gets to know more about her kids and the rest of her mishpocha than she ever did before.

Businesses are just beginning to catch on that the future of business is about customer relationships using tools that didn't exist a few years ago. That's why there's a whole new job category out there-- new media/social media specialist.