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Is E-Mail Dead? A Millennial Weighs In

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Posted on / by Alex Berger
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I was recently approached by Scottsdale Airpark News Magazine to write a piece on social media. I chose to weigh in on the life (and death) of e-mail, the generational gap in usage behavior and explain the conundrum baffling many business experts: why don’t young business professionals rely on e-mail as their primary source for communication?  This post is a follow up to another piece I wrote entitled; Social Networks, E-mail and User Behavior in August of 2008.

From Scottsdale Airpark News:

Is E-Mail Dead? A Millennial’s view on today’s trusty tool

Stop! Before you click the send button and fire off that next e-mail, ask yourself, “Who is my audience and what is their age demographic?” As we prepare to enter a new decade, it’s time to think about how the use of e-mail has changed since 1995. Those who are 26 years and younger—“Millenials”—have a very different attitude about it than Generation X or even Y.

In the mid to late ’90s, e-mail was the leading edge. It offered unparalleled utility, was time effective and cost sensitive. It quickly became a requirement in most places of business and a part of our daily routine. Yet, despite its apparent necessity, the next few years will see e-mail moved to the endangered species list.

Change of Address

Non-Millennials embraced the Internet during a period when Internet Service Providers (ISP) and work-associated e-mails were king. If you’re over 26, you’ve probably had one e-mail address associated with your home ISP and a second professional e-mail for work. Most non-Millennials change their e-mail only when they move or change employers, so they have had maybe two addresses in the last 10 to 15 years.

Millennials, on the other hand, have been forced to adapt. During the peak of the tech boom, America’s youth were flooding online. Hungry for privacy and their own piece of online real estate, they signed up for free e-mail providers like Hotmail, Yahoo and eventually Google. They had free time, a burning curiosity, and a native understanding of the web which drove them to explore … sometimes recklessly.

What many discovered was an inbox inundated with spam. While older generations used e-mail for conversations, Millennials had instant messaging. The end result was a transient relationship with e-mail. Too much spam? Just register a new address. Interests changed? Register a new address. Pokemanmaster87@hotmail.com too childish? Time for another. An environment quickly evolved where keeping your address book up to date was impossible.

Enter Social Media

Many people were shocked by how sites like Facebook became so successful among young people. The answer is simple. Social media sites provided a “one-stop shop” for most of the resources Millennials desperately needed. They wanted a simple service that essentially replaced e-mail with a database-driven address book that users automatically updated—and one that provided real-time chat, e-mail-like functionality and the ability to share rich media.

Facebook and co. rocked the boat but didn’t end e-mail’s dominance. After all, e-mail still offers value not readily duplicated by social networks. It remains our go-to resource for sharing documents and files, the preferred medium for professional communication (especially due to its archival value) and a necessity for trans-generational communication.

It’s time to prepare for a new decade, one that’s no longer shackled to e-mail. File sizes are skyrocketing and have quickly swamped e-mail’s capability. This has spawned spinoff resources, such as Drop.io, which allow quick and easy file sharing. Social media is no longer the sole domain of Millennials and the occasional early adopter. It’s reached a critical mass where Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are commonplace. They’ve become the new status quo, paving the way for the mass adoption of Google Wave and similar products delivering a more engaging, real-time, collaborative and user-friendly experience. It all points to a future that is sure to retire e-mail to the domain of rotary telephones, typewriters and fax machines.

So, before you hit send, ask yourself, is e-mail really the right medium for your message?

Alex Berger, a Millenial, is the author of the blog VirtualWayfarer.com, as well as an analyst with Fox & Fin Financial Group, 7333 E. Doubletree Ranch Road, Suite 200, Scottsdale. Alex@foxfin.com; www.foxfin.com; @MandAAZ.

View a .pdf of the print version here.

Have thoughts, comments, or your own insight to add?  Please join the discussion with a comment below!

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.

9 Comments

  • AlexBerger
    December 10, 2009

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks for the comment. No doubt about it. But, we need only look to land lines to see a similar shift. You still get asked for your cell number as well as your landline/home phone, but the vast majority of Americans no longer even have a land line or “home” phone.

    It will take time – and keep in mind, that these comments also allow you to sign in and post with a one click facebook account or twitter credential as well!

    Reply
  • Marc Jacobson
    December 10, 2009

    This was uncommonly conceited. I am 47 years old and do everything that a “Millenial” does online. I use all of those services, I have at least 10 Gmail accounts, use Google Wave, Twitter, blog, Skype, everything. What's the big deal?

    Reply
  • AlexBerger
    December 10, 2009

    Thanks for taking the time to weigh in. It's fantastic that you're well connected and tech savvy. It is, unfortunate, that you feel the post is conceited and somewhat ironic that you'd choose to make the point you did. The post does not talk about [everyone] over X age. It talks about the majority of individuals. There are without question early adopters who have led the charge. You yourself seem to be in that category. However, you also seem to have made the same mistake you condemned by implying that you are representative of all [or even a majority] of individuals in your age group.

    Further, this post talks as much about HOW those services are used as IF they are used. The man who uses a rock as a weapon is vastly different than the man who uses a rock to build a house. Sure they both use a rock, but that doesn't make the utility anything remotely similar.

    Reply
  • Jim Burch
    December 10, 2009

    I hope you're right, but so far most companies are trying as hard to divide as to connect users. Clunky as it is, e-mail unfortunately remains the most versatile interface. (To post this comment, I provide my e-mail address, not my Twitter username or my Google Wave account.)

    Reply
  • Jim Burch
    December 10, 2009

    Cool, thanks–great article!

    Reply
  • Scottsdale Real Estate
    December 11, 2009

    I think what you said is absolutely right. Alex, your post is a good one.

    Reply
  • AlexBerger
    December 11, 2009

    Thanks for the post and kind words!

    Reply
  • Scottsdale Real Estate
    December 11, 2009

    I think what you said is absolutely right. Alex, your post is a good one.

    Reply
  • AlexBerger
    December 11, 2009

    Thanks for the post and kind words!

    Reply

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