The Wall Street Journal published a comprehensive feature Oct. 12 on the wane of e-mail's reign, thanks to the rise of Facebook, Twitter and collaboration platforms such as Google Wave.
There are many, many fine points in the piece, which fairly covers the increase in adoption of social networks and the proliferation of real-time Web services and the filters and tags that help us govern them.
Unfortunately, it's not a fair reflection of the world outside Silicon Valley, where hype browbeats the public and wills products into popularity. Millions of desk-bound workers and corporate road warriors in offices all over the world rely on e-mail as the de facto standard for communication, often in lieu of telephones.
Just ask the folks who run Microsoft Outlook or IBM Lotus, and even the Google Apps people. Despite all of the fun, newfangled Web services, they are not replacing King E-Mail in offices.
Yes, 300 million people are using Facebook to connect with friends, family and even coworkers, and, yes, almost 60 million people are forgoing asynchronous e-mail for Twitter's steroidal messaging platform.
And yes, people are bidding on eBay for a Google Wave invite because that chimera of e-mail, instant messaging, file sharing and social network is fodder for the real-time communications and collaboration craze. Jessica Vascellaro, the San Francisco-based author of the Wall Street Journal article, wrote:
""We all still use e-mail, of course. But e-mail was better suited to the way we used to use the Internet-logging off and on, checking our messages in bursts. Now, we are always connected, whether we are sitting at a desk or on a mobile phone. The always-on connection, in turn, has created a host of new ways to communicate that are much faster than e-mail, and more fun. Why wait for a response to an e-mail when you get a quicker answer over instant messaging? ... E-mail, stuck in the era of attachments, seems boring compared to services like Google Wave.""
E-mail may be boring, but, sorry, it remains the king of communications. Despite Nicholas Carr's assertion that asynchornous communication is now our enemy, we can't always be connected, nor do we want to always engage with real-time services.
As anyone who has suffered the headache-inducing, co-editing cursors of Google Wave can attest, always-on connectivity hurts productivity worse than e-mail. Sometimes we need to unplug, regardless of whether we are working or playing.
The notion that e-mail is some bygone, pass??Â« application is wishful talk perpetuated by Silicon Valley folk breathing in every bit of Web 2.0 asbestos imaginable. Try this new widget! Have you checked out this recommendation engine? You mean you're still using Snurl?! You have to try Bit.ly.
Facebook and Twitter are great social networks that spark fun, often frivolous and speedy communications. But these platforms are hardly supplanting Outlook, Lotus Notes or even Gmail in businesses.
E-mail is asynchronous and we like it that way. When we have worked our 11th hour and are ready to unwind, we log off, we go to bed and, when we wake up, the e-mail is waiting.
This poetry (or pablum) in digital text commands enough of our valuable attention as it is. We needn't be presently connected or communicating with senders or recipients to compound the efficiency drain (though some of us do it). A Wall Street Journal reader summed it up best:
""I'll stick with e-mail-write when I want, as often (or not ) as I want, to whom I want privately. No interest in letting the world know that I overcooked the spaghetti.""
Facebook, Twitter and Google Wave will all have their place for instances where the immediacy and intimacy of real time are required. But e-mail, whose true power is its asynchronous nature, will remain king.
If there is any God governing e-mail and the real-time Web services vying for our attention, it's good old-fashioned common sense-knowing when to power down.