Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Is email obsolete?

It is a rage now to announce the death of ____________.  Doing so is dramatic and gets attention.  Oh, no, not my favorite!  As is often the case, it is wise to take all such announcements with a big grain of salt.  Maybe there is a decline, maybe not.  If there is a decline, maybe that is actually better than I suspect right now.  Maybe.

Recently, I began to realize how some of my friends respond immediately to text messages sent to their phone but rarely to email.  One said that sometimes she doesn't get to the computer.  Another said she didn't like her computer.  The situation reminds me of experiences I had in teaching courses online and other distance education arrangements.  Many people have a favorite channel or mode of communication.  If you want to communicate with them, it helps very much to use that mode, whether it is fax, voice phone calls, text or whatever.  Some people do best with old-fashioned conversation in face-to-face situations.  Finding out how a given person most likes to communicate can make an impressive difference in how much information they accept and create as well.

Cell phones are usually with the user, text messages are inexpensive and reasonably unobtrusive.  Using Google Voice to create a message is quite easy and convenient on a computer and the program keeps all messages, in and out, in an orderly file, copies them into email if so desired and allows them to be easily re-sent or replied or forwarded by email.  It is more or less polite to misspell and to shorten "wrds 2 use fewr karactrs."  (Some people are offended by that practice and fear for the future of our language, our society and our personal discipline.)  Another thing I like about Google Voice is that it lets me know if I send a text message to a phone that cannot receive and display such messages.  They are quite short and not good for something like this paragraph.

Email on a computer is quick and more or less unlimited, does not require such a tight contract deal and is basically rather inexpensive.  Inserting links, changing fonts, adding colors and highlighting and attaching all sorts of documents is easier.

Actually speaking with someone "live" on the phone is better than a one-way message like either email or texting.  Gauging voice tone and feelings as well as working with complex situations involving rapid changing communication, as when arranging a meeting between people with full calendars.

Some technologists have a saying "Old technologies never die; they just fade."  We still have blacksmiths and horse-drawn vehicles, we still start outdoor campfires with matches or even older means.  I suspect that email will be with us for a while.

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