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by Jehuda Saar
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email is for old people

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.

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Reader Comments (3)

Not everything that people adopt necessarily means it's something good, and certainly not when it's adopted by kids and teens.
INSTANT is good in some cases, but in most cases it's not and requiring everything to be instant is actually a bad virtue.
In our office there's internal IM for many years now. Most use it frequently. I quit the app after every reboot and never launch it. I cannot accept that people expect me to reply to them right away all the time (and I'm not going to change my status all the time). I'm often busy doing something else and getting IM requests is very distracting. Same goes for all other more modern social network's communication methods.

Also, you do adapt. You have a blog and you send updates via Twitter. These are other forms of non-instant communication and they work.

As for keeping every piece of e-mail - that's your problem. No one told you to do so :-)
When I get e-mail, I choose what to keep or not. When I send an e-mail and I want to keep, I just copy myself to the e-mail. That way I go to my Sent Items every now and then and just delete everything older than X days without looking twice because I've already saved what I wanted to keep.

Finally, technology will obviously continue to evolve and communication will change. Some of those are and will be better than others. Google tried to make a change (and failed) and now FaceBook is starting a new e-mail-type service and we'll see how that goes. You will have to adapt, but you'll need to make sure you adapt wisely. Personally I feel all the INSTANT tools are hurting more than they're doing any good. For now e-mail is still the most solid form of electronic text communication supporting long texts, formats, and attachments.
I have another problem: I just get too much e-mail :-)

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRafi Saar

You are probably right when you say that email will stick around for a while however as a younger generation enters the job world we are going to see a shift away from these long forms of communication, at least that is my prediction. I wouldn't be surprised if before long we witness the ascension of a new paradigm, something we are not yet familiar with but will be born from today's means of communicating.

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJehuda

Just realised that somehow the first paragraph of this entry had been deleted. Pasted it back in again.

December 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJehuda

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