Reports of the Death of Email Greatly Exaggerated

Lately there’s been a lot of talk on the internet (a circulating “meme,” as some would have it) that email is doomed if not already dead. As Mark Twain said after reading his own obituary, the report of this death has been greatly exaggerated. Ask any lawyer or librarian contemplating the Outlook inbox. A gentle exploration of the issue in Slate (“The death of e-mail” by Chad Lore) points to some important facts that we have raised many times here on Slaw, though never with the narrow conclusion that email is fatally ill.

Essentially, the article looks to how young people interact with communication technology and finds that they choose what I would say are the splashiest but least wordy ways to make their marks. Facebook, of course, epitomizes the young person’s desire to make a display, whereas it is somewhat less popular among those of us on the far side of the mating game. And IM and SMS are quick and terse, not to say cryptic. Twitter, by contrast, indulges in the luxury of a whole 140 characters, but does meet the splash requirement that has your apperçu instantly broadcast to your posse.

Will these replace email? No. At least, not for a long while (as “eons” go in tech time). And certainly not in legal circles. Heck, some lawyers are still probably using CD-ROMS. Besides, as the Slate piece has pointed out, the BlackBerry has seen the older crowd re-plight its troth to email.

But just as email took about twenty years to arrive in the mainstream, so its replacement will have a shallow adoption curve. It may resemble something that’s currently abroad. Or it may not. Personally I’d watch what Apple wants us to do — but then I’m an Apply fan boy. In the meantime, if you like fairly large groups of fairly large words — say, more than ten of four letters long — you’ll find email at your service for as long as you want.


  1. i think, email won’t die. imho, this is the most secure and fast way of communication.

  2. If you believe what Yahoo and Google say about “Inbox 2.0“, e-mail can’t die at the hands of things like Facebook, IM, SMS or Twitter because they’ll eventually all be part of the same thing. Everything will come into your inbox, and will be pushed to you at the appropriate place and time (based on length, subject, sender etc).

  3. There have been two big recent news items in my email world. In late October, Google announced support, more or less, for IMAP. (There’s a great tutorial here.) Also, back in July, Mozilla announced: “We have concluded that we should find a new, separate organizational setting for Thunderbird; one that allows the Thunderbird community to determine its own destiny.”

    One of the questions I’ve learned to ask is, If I start to use this new thing to store stuff, can I move my old stuff into it too? And is it likely that I’ll be able to move my stuff to the next big thing when that eventually comes along? Heaven only knows what standards Facebook adheres to for email-like documents that a person might wish to archive.

    It was simple to move my email from the University of Victoria to York, because both were using the University of Washington’s Pine. All I had to do was ftp the files. Then pc-pine came along, and there was IMAP, so when the York became less friendly to people who wanted to have a unix shell, it was not that big a deal. The crisis only came when the university changed email servers, and were unwilling to configure the new server to allow the use of IMAP for remote configuration, addressbooks, etc., something that pc-pine needed. At that point, I decided to switch to Mozilla Thunderbird, and learned a number of things about Pine’s oddities that I never really wanted to know. It turns out that the very standard mbox format is used to store current mail on most servers, but the much less common mbx format was used in things I had archived locally with pc-pine. Fortunately, there were utilities available for doing the conversion.

    The piece of the puzzle that I’ve had on the back burner for a while is to find a service-provider that will allow me to install an LDAP server for managing multiple address books, etc., as suggested in this article. There has been speculation that we might eventually get LDAP services from Google too. Who knows?

  4. No, email won’t die, although many corporate and government groups would like to see it’s demise (check out the recent order for the White House to produce email…). For those of us delving into the land of electronic discovery, email is one of those sins of necessity. Mind you, many organizations today have sort of cracked the nut on ensuring that their email is discoverable although a good many are still receiving those marvelous production orders that expect one to produce every electron….