Why email still isn’t going away


Technology and culture pundits have been predicting the demise of email for years. In this article from 2007 titled “The Death of E-Mail,” Slate‘s Chad Lorenz wrote, “You could chalk up the decline of e-mail to kids following the newest tech fads. You’re not cool if you’re not on Facebook or MySpace, and everyone wants the latest tricked-out cell phone.”

Well, we are a long way past MySpace usage being a universally recognized metric of cool. (Not to mention Facebook!) And how many iterations of “tricked-out” iPhones and Androids have we seen since Chad’s elegy to email from more than a decade ago? Yet here email stubbornly remains.

More recently, Inc. contributing editor John Brandon predicted in April 2015 that “a new communication channel will replace email by 2020.”

“There are already signs that business is starting to move away from email as a primary form of digital communication,” he said. “We have so many alternatives. You can send a text message or a DM on Twitter. You can drop someone a note on Facebook or start a chat.”

On top of that, enterprise workers can communicate through any number of collaboration platforms such as Slack and Asana. And maybe that explains why email hasn’t gone away and may not for awhile: With so many alternatives, the market isn’t coalescing around one technology. (This also is the reason mobile payments haven’t taken off as predicted.)

Look, everyone hates email almost as much as they hate automated marketing calls. Your email box is a garbage dump of unsolicited offers, newsletters you don’t remember ever signing up for and intriguing proposals from Nigerian royalty.

Still, email is highly functional. Anyone with an email account can send an email to anyone else with an email address, no matter which client they use. In the business world there’s a lot of value to that, and it’s probably the main reason why messaging apps, social media, and collaboration platforms haven’t yet rendered email obsolete. If someone’s not on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook, or you don’t have their phone number, you’re not going to be able to reach them via those communication channels. But you can email someone if you have their AOL email address, if only to ask them how life in the previous millennium is going.

For all email’s problems, it continues to perform a crucial role in the business world as a way to contact people who otherwise might be difficult to reach. Further, email remains critical to digital lead-generation campaigns. Want that white paper on artificial intelligence? Just fill in your email address here!

I also think there’s some value to email’s role as garbage collector. Anyone who has received unsolicited marketing texts knows how intrusive that feels. Getting the same pitch via email somehow doesn’t feel as obnoxious.

Is the end of email near? Can you live without email, personally or professionally? And what will replace it, if anything? Leave your comments in the section below!

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