Kurt Vonnegut, the prominent American author once dedicated one of his essays to explaining why he would not use email. He wrote about his reluctance stemming from the fear of losing life’s simple pleasures such as starting his days by wandering to the post office, buying stamps and innocently flirting with the woman behind the glass wall.
Several decades later, electronic messaging started to receive similar scepticism, but for entirely different reasons. Sir Steve Smith, University of Exeter’s vice-chancellor, announced recently that the era of email was reaching its end. According to the university, the IT services had to incorporate social media operators in order to deal with enquiries, because large numbers of students considered email as too slow and unwieldy.
The forecasts about corporate and personal email’s demise have been vocalised by many groups since the rapid progress and spread of social media use. However, email sceptics (or, as the Harvard Business Review calls them: ‘digital hipsters’) do seem to be missing simple conclusions drawn from data statistics. According to the HBR 2012 survey of workers in the U.S., UK and South Africa, employees still use half of their workday dealing with email; they trust it and are overly satisfied with it. The number of email accounts is predicted to reach 3.8 billion by the end of 2014. 94% of all online adults use email and 73% of teenagers do so. With 188 billion email messages sent each day you might think that the predictions about the end of the email era are greatly exaggerated.
Email is certainly not dead – it’s evolving. It is as important a tool as ever and, continues to be the dominant means of communication used in the workplace whilst useful as a searchable archive, contact and content database and document courier. Its efficiency needs improvements, for example better junk mail protection or the ability to search through the vast volumes of data quickly. Email needs to change, just as nearly everything does in a time of rapid technological progress. Nevertheless, it still remains one of the cornerstones of the information age.