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.