Email: The Nail in the Coffin

I have been musing for a while now about the seemingly imminent death of email, but last night I became convinced that personal email is already dead, we are just hammering the nails in the coffin.

Yes, there is no doubt that business email is still alive ( and broken and annoying)- but that is another post. Let’s focus on Personal email.

I was on a phone call with my mom when the ringing of the hammer sounded clearly.

“We decided to talk to Verizon and get off of AOL and just use our Verizon email.”

Excellent news! AOL ( stop cringing) was the right choice for my parents back in 1990, when the web was new and there were not many user friendly email interfaces. Now, it just inevitably led them to clicking on links in ways that launch that horrid AOL browser and things were broken. Plus, it is spending money on a service they really don’t need. Times are tight and money is not free.

“Your Dad was reluctant and is concerned about how the email will look, but I told him it really did not matter, hardly anyone we know uses email any more. When I look at my email, it is almost all junk or ads or things people forwarded me. We don’t have many people who send us stuff any more- you all moved to Facebook”.

Wow. Astute for a basically computer challenged person who strongly resists change of any kind. She was not happy about the shift, mind you- ( I did not even want to boggle her with the plethora of social networks where I have a home… we will just leave it as Facebook for now).

“I am going to have to get on Facebook if I want to keep in touch, and just when I learn it, you will all probably move someplace else. But there is no doubt that email is just dead.”

This from a 64 year old woman who is far from a computer analyst and does not know Facebook at all, apart from her grandaughters talking about it and the little bit we showed her over the Easter Holiday.

If she is not on Facebook soon, I have no doubt she will be on by the end of my daughters’ week-long visit with them the first week of June. Honestly, I think she will like it better than AOL email.. but for my sanity and hers, I hope someone solves the interoperability/open authetication/platform communication before they leave and migrate to the next great social networking platform and leave her behind on Facebook wthout a linkage.

The Future of Email is Bleak

I am battling to not fall into a generation communication/media gap. I have noticed for some time now that email use is declining, especially amongst teenagers. I honestly wanted to write this off as one of the follys of youth- “they can play around with their social network messaging now, but once they grow up and enter the real world, they will have to adjust to email”. It was a comforting thought to help me through the annoyance of logging into multiple social networking sites to check messages. I can not fathom my future spent in such an annoying way ( and I do still believe that the way that social networks interact will have to change for them to survive) .

Having my parents here over the past weekend and spending more than one discussion/argument over the shift from paper communication to digital/email has really made me accept that the shift to social network messaging is not just a folly of youth, but the next evolutionary shift in digital communications. It does not mean that email is dead. The generations of people and businesses heavily invested in email are not going to disappear overnight. But the change is coming and if you have a business or an interest in being able to continue to communicate to the next generation of adults, you had better be prepared. Just as my generation sends paper communications less and less, my childrens’ generation uses email less and less. This does not mean that I think that social network messaging is better than email, just that the current shift is rapidly moving away from it. For my part, it means that I am going to stop haranguing my children to check their email and trying to convince them that email is important to their future.

How do you communicate with the teenagers in your life? How is your business adapting to accomodate the shift in communication?

Not your father’s email…

I love email. There is no denying it. The first time I discovered email (back in the 80’s…) I can remember a rush of electricity running through me. “the delivery time just went to zero” I remember thinking. “And I can CC: people… it is like a private bulletin board”. You can imagine how long I laughed when my daughter recently looked at me and said “Mom, email is dead- no one reads email anymore”. I tried to explain to her that I processed several hundred emails each day, there is NO way this is going away. Then I stopped and wondered if the people who used carbon paper on a daily basis felt the same way once upon a time. Was it possible that I was buried so deeply in my habits that I was not seeing a coming change in usage? I decided to take a moment, step back with an open mind and pay attention to how the teenagers around me were communicating electronically. Here are some of the insights I have gathered about our future workforce:

1) All electronic communication is one-on-one. Some communication is private and some is personal, but it is all on a one to one basis. I saw this first hand recently when I was drafting my 14 year old to assist with getting comments on an article in the HP Magic Contest on Chris Pirillo’s site. I asked her to contact her friends on Facebook and ask them to read and comment on the article. When I tackled this task, I wrote one message, CC’d it to any of my friends on Facebook and hit send. When she tackled this task, she typed up a message and sent it to one friend. Then she typed something slightly different and typed it to another. Then she typed a new message and sent it to another friend. Then she typed… you get the picture. I asked her what the HECK she was doing.. which led me to observation number two.

2) Only spammers CC: people. Laugh all you want at the naivete in this statement. I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. Who in business today does not CC: ( or even BCC:) people on a daily (hourly??) basis? Once you stop laughing, stop and think about this. If an entire age group of people think and believe a certain way, isn’t it likely to come true in the future? This is not just a misunderstanding of email, this is a philosophical stance being taken by a generation. What they believe and act on is the idea that all communication, even electronic communications, are personal interactions.

3)Messaging is ubiquitous, not a separate application. Email as an entity does not really exist. There is just the concept of messaging. Sometimes you send a private ( or public) message on Facebook, or MySpace. Or maybe you send a message in Flickr, Geeks.com, or from within a game you are playing. It might just be a text message on your cell phone. The concept of opening up a new application or web page JUST to do email is beyond silly (the actual term was “ridiculous”) to the upcoming generation.

I have to admit that I am still struggling to imagine my life without gmail or Outlook or Thunderbird, but if I am honest, I have to admit that a change is coming. This is a topic that will continue to watch and discuss with the teens who cross my path- and I will be writing more on this in the near future. In the meantime, I have to admit that although my business usage of an email application has not changed, my personal use of email has become more and more limited- more an more of my one on one communication in my personal life takes place on facebook or twitter or through blog coments and not via email.

Is your email usage changing? What would your digital life look like without an email application ??