Jun 09

The argument that “email is dead” is a red herring

For some time now, many, many people have spoken about how email is on the way out as a primary communication channel, and how young people don’t use email unless it is for communicating with “old people”.

I think this way of looking at our changing world is a red herring. It assumes that email as a technology, and it’s implementation never adapts. Usage of technologies may change, but people’s motivations regarding sociability remain the same. It is perhaps true that right now young people are using email less than young people before them to accomplish specific communication goals. But we need to understand their motivations rather than look at what technologies they are currently using. I can see two very different things happening that will keep email very central to people’s communication habits:

- It is possible (likely?) that email will evolve to address these motivations and young people will start to use it more and more. Witness Gmail Labs and Google Wave. A phone from 1920 doesn’t look like a phone from 2009 but the technology has remained relevant. Radio evolved, TV evolved and email will evolve.

- Our research is yet young. Online social networks have been around for a short period of time. Not long enough for us to see huge numbers of these young people move into the workplace. Email in the workplace will be around for a long time, and these same young people will be forced to use it as part of their job. Many will then start to talk to friends from their work email account. It’s importance as a communication tool will increase. These habits may even shift to their personal email account.