Still Using E-Mail? U R OLD!

Communication is an evolving thing. When I was a kid everyone had rotary phones, no one had an answering machine, no one had a home computer, and people quite often communicated via hand-written letters sent over the postal service. If I was taking public transit to see a movie with friends or biking to the tennis courts at the high school, I would be expected to be home by a certain time – and if I actually had an issue I would need to find a pay phone and call.

Five or ten years ago we did most stuff by home phone, got messages on our tape-based answering machine, had cell phones for emergencies mostly (signal was crap where we lived back then), had letter-exchanges with certain friends, and did an awful lot of stuff using email. I had two different email-groups from high school, some from college, each of my prior jobs, as well as dealings with parents of the kids’ activities we managed.

Now we still have a landline at home mainly for historical purposes, but conduct almost all business and personal contact using our cell phones. And using text messages quite frequently. During the day when we are on the go we’ll drop a quick ‘checking in’ text, and as we shuttle kids around a nice status text is effective and doesn’t disrupt anything.

There is still plenty of conversation by phone, at least between my wife and her sister and occasionally me and my brother. For the kids, texting is the preferred medium over pretty much everything else. Email? Mostly for work stuff as well as Gear Diary things – in other words, very much about informational things and less about personal contact.

Those email lists? We are all connected on Facebook and keep in contact that way! The kids also love Facebook, but tend to blast in and out much like they would a text message rather than writing longer messages.

All of this ties into an article at the NY Times today, which itself ties back to an article earlier this week.

The first article focuses on the generational shift: older folks prefer email while kids use text and instant messaging as well as services like Twitter. From the article:

The problem with e-mail, young people say, is that it involves a boringly long process of signing into an account, typing out a subject line and then sending a message that might not be received or answered for hours. And sign-offs like “sincerely” — seriously?

Lena Jenny, 17, a high school senior in Cupertino, Calif., said texting was so quick that “I sometimes have an answer before I even shut my phone.” E-mail, she added, is “so lame.”

Today’s article subdivides the demographics even further: while the email usage in under-18 year olds has absolutely plummeted (down ~50% compared to last year), for all age groups between 18 and 54 there has been about a 10% drop off. Only in groups 55-64 and 65+ has email usage risen.

According to the article:

“This strongly suggests a generational shift in the way people communicate,” said Andrew Lipsman, an analyst with comScore. He said the fact that people over 54 are spending more time with e-mail likely reflects the fact that some in that age group are either getting online for the first time or becoming more familiar with computers and the Internet. For them, Mr. Lipsman said, e-mail is often a starting point.

“It’s usually one step at a time,” he said, noting that this group is not likely to jump from the postal service to texting: “You don’t go from the most formal to the least formal in one step.”

I sat at a holiday lunch for my new project team on Monday and the subject of communications came up. In that group of eight I was the youngest (and looking back to the first paragraph and also realizing I voted for Reagan should give a clue as to how old the rest of the crew was!). A couple of them had Facebook – and only had them due to their kids, none of them were big fans of texting – again those who did was a result of kids, none had Twitter accounts … and as a result all of them asked me questions about these things and staring at me like I was “Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan”!

Most of them have work BlackBerrys, but do nothing on them outside of phone calls and emails. They are clearly part of that older set – they are happily migrating slowly from desktop-only email to mobile email.

At Gear Diary we make great use of Yammer for group chatting, which is like a private Twitter feed. Most of us are regularly on Twitter, have Facebook feeds, have a smartphone of either iOS or Android or BlackBerry variety, drop stuff on Buzz, and on and on. Yet if you read the posts you can see we are certainly not in the ‘under 18’ bracket!

For my wife and I, texting began as a great way to keep in touch with our niece and nephew who were in high school and heading soon to college. From there it branched to each other, and then when our kids were old enough to get phones they immediately became texting maniacs. They will talk on the phone only when absolutely required. I laughed last week because I asked my older son to call his mom at home to tell her we were on our way (tight schedule with evening activities) and he started texting. I had to remind him that ‘call’ doesn’t equal ‘text’.

How has your communications stream changed over time? And what do you think all of this focus on impersonal instant gratification has done to us in general?

Categories: Editorials


4 replies

  1. Still Using E-Mail? U R OLD! | Gear Diary: I had two different email-groups from high school, some from college,…

  2. I’m not sure that this is a positive change. In the business world, letters are still required, proposals need to be written, and talking is becoming a lost art. I’ve conducted job interviews with some 18-25 year olds, and asked them to type a one to two paragraph proposal. The results were disappointing to say the least.

    The results were loaded with texting “shortcuts”, spelling errors, and poor grammar. Those same people interviewed poorly. They didn’t communicate in complete sentences. I got a lot of “well, you know”, “Uuuhhhh” and the always popular, “Huh”. I’m not a communication snob. My spelling isn’t all that great (Thank God for spell check!). I almost always re-read what I’ve written before submitting, just to make sure there are no glaring errors.

    One day, these same young adults are going to have to communicate with each other and the world around them. They won’t be able to do it with texting. Will they have the ability to do so? A lot won’t, and are going to be in serious trouble later in life.