Earlier this week I was trying to solve a technical problem in our shared office space at GabiH2O. It involved solving an outgoing mail port related problem, the details of which enter nerd territory that will have your collective eyes glaze over and are therefore not worth relating here. In trying to solve this problem I checked with some of the other techies of the other companies on our floor only to find out to my consternation that either none of them had ever heard of such a problem, or else they simply didn't care, and all for one simple reason: NONE of them use an email client on their PCs or Macs. They all use Gmail.
Now I admit that I am a veteran of "email", a real old-timer. In the late 80's I was a frequent contributor on the Compuserve and Genie services and I used MCImail to send out work related telexes from my home. I was also an early adopter of something called America Online back in '89 when it was a Mac only system previously known as AppleLink Personal Edition purchased from Apple and before it became AOL. In '93 I added my email address to my business cards and very often the people I did business with used to ask what that cryptic line on the card actually meant.
All of this is meant to illustrate to what extent I consider email an intrinsic part of my daily work and private life. When the first email-only Blackberries came out, it was as if someone had designed that tool just for me. In 2001 I got my hands on one of the early models and I have never looked back since. But it appears that while I continued using email and insisted on setting up email client software on every new computer I regularly upgraded to, the world around me continued to evolve, and not necessarily in the direction I was heading.
When I ask kids today whether they use email, 9 times out of 10 they'll answer: "Yeah, for school". Kids communicate via Facebook, sms, bbm, whatsapp or other forms of instant messaging. The idea to carefully compose an email message and then wait hours for a response sounds ridiculous to them. If they can't get an immediate response, that form of electronic communication makes no sense to them. And so email gets relegated to "formal" communication: school or work related. On the one hand communication becomes more effective and direct in that manner. On the other hand however it loses any depth and the concept of "spelling" becomes something old folk worry about.
The other aspect of the change I described above, the use of online email resources rather than downloading messages to one's computer, are all part of this move to cloud computing. Gmail is no longer just about email alone (see yesterday's New York Times for a piece entitled E-Mail Gets an Instant Makeover) and these forms of instant communication are getting built into what were once "traditional" tools.
The conclusion is that I will have to start opening myself up to change. I have no doubt that email will continue to be an effective tool for business communication, but the idea that I can store on my computer every bit of text I type or receive from anyone is ridiculous. It makes as much sense to save all that stuff as it does to record every bit of conversation i have with people as I go through my day, every "Hello" and "How are you on this lovely morning". So adapt I will.