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Ode in praise of Email

In his comments at the new Facebook expanded messaging platform announcement on Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he doesn't think email is a "modern messaging system," stating his contention that instant messaging, chat services, and texting are simpler, "more fun", and more valuable to use. He claims younger Internet users are rejecting email en masse in favour of texting and instant messaging as their primary modes of communication.

Well, I suppose I'm showing my age and a streak of Luddism when I say that I much prefer email. While I'm at it, I might as well add that I lament the demise of hard–copy, longhand–written correspondence, although I'm obliged to admit that I can't remember the last occasion when I wrote a proper, leisurely handwritten letter. Email has transformed me into a lousy correspondent in the traditional sense.

However, email is where I (at least provisionally) draw the line. I don't text, I don't chat, rarely instant message, and my Facebook page is blank. I have better, or at least more productive, things to do with my time. which is my central point here. All the newer media communications modalities are incredible time–burners. Not to mention that texting when in face-to-face company with other people is just plain rude.

In a functional sense, what I like about email is that it can be attended to and time-shifted to fit one's personal time management schedule, rather than demanding immediate and ongoing attention. Yesterday, I posted a news story about a survey of more than 1000 business professionals by People-OnTheGo CEO Pierre Khawand, who found an overwhelming majority of workers today struggle to keep up with an onslaught of information and communications demands, including email, but while simultaneously grappling with the enormous challenge of monitoring and using social media. An alarming 65.8 per cent of participants reported interrupting their work constantly or too often, and 81.8 per cent admitted having little or no strategy for dealing with either email or social media monitoring.

Khawand reports that use of social media in the workplace is increasing rapidly, with 58.5 per cent of the survey participants checking Facebook regularly, 47.9 per cent checking LinkedIn regularly, 22.6 per cent checking Twitter, and 21.9 per cent reading blogs. I'd be interested to see this data correlated with worker productivity stats.

I'm a fairly efficient multi-tasker, or at least so I like to think. I've read other studies suggesting that efficient multi-tasking is a oxymoronic delusion. However, at least with email, one can monotask when required or when it just suits you better, taking time to deliberate carefully about what you're writing. With texting and instant messaging you're inevitably distracted by the immediacy of it all.

At least Mark Zuckerberg conceded that email will remain an important technology for some people. Evidently it's on its way out as a medium for trivial chatter, but that might even have its mitigating upside, and I'm not anticipating email's displacement anytime soon for serious and/or thoughtful communication.