RIP Email? Not Yet

It seems that the cool, new proclamation to make in the digital media world is that “email is dead.” From PC Mag to The Wall Street Journal, everyone has chimed in about this seemingly hot topic, citing the rise of social media as the harbinger of demise for email. But it’s probably not going to happen anytime soon.

When it comes to email’s supposed demise, everybody points the finger at the popularity of social media, particularly among young people. The logic is that because millenials have grown up with Facebook and use social media as their primary mode of communication, then pretty soon everyone will use social media and not email. That’s not the case.

As investor Fred Wilson recently pointed outemail isn’t getting hurtby social media but actually helped. The simple fact is even if kids use email less, they’ll need to use it when they grow up. Is an employee going to Facebook message her boss with a business report? Am I going to organize an editorial meeting via tweet? No. The list of scenarios in which email is necessary and social media is inappropriate can go on and on.

Another argument also heard about email is that it’s slow and everything — and I mean everything — must be real time. Not so. Just because there are means of instant online communication, that doesn’t mean that email is all of a sudden useless. Not every exchange requires instant responses, nor are such casual forms of correspondence like texting and IMing appropriate for all situations and relationships. In fact, in many cases email is better for the express reason that it’s not real time.

There’s the practical role email still plays in everyday life online. I need an email address to use Groupon, to make reservations on OpenTable, to book hotels and travel on Expedia, to shop on any retail website—basically any online activity that involves a transaction or a subscription requires an email address. To use iTunes to buy music or to sync your iPhone requires an Apple account, which requires an email address. Some customer service departments for companies and websites only provide email contacts. And ahem, to have a Facebook account, you need an email address. We need email addresses so we can be contactable and accountable in order to use almost every online and some offline services. Facebook is growing as an identity system, but it’s not going to overtake email in most instances, as Wilson pointed out.

Clearly email is not obsolete. People still use email everyday, people will continue to need to use email, despite the popularity of social media and texting. Email’s time has not come and isn’t coming for a long, long time.
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