Is Email Already Obsolete?

In Education, Educational Technology

Try this: ask your students – say from age 14 and younger – whether or not they have their own email account. Not a school email account. Their own email account.

I bet you a large proportion of hands will stay down as more and more students rely on social networking almost exclusively for their communication. I bet you this proportion will only increase in the coming years.

Students simply don’t need their own email account any more. With the arrival of Open Authorisation, they don’t even need email to sign up to web services, they simply sign up to them using their social networking accounts.

Is this kind of social communication the future of communication? Will this generation of children embrace the likes of Facebook or Google + as their preferred means of communication in all spheres of their lives – for work as well as leisure?

In my experience, for most children, email is quickly going the way of CDs: it’s simply surplus to their requirements, it’s obsolete.

I wonder then, is it not our responsibility as teachers to teach our students to be proficient, not just in the use of the tools of the past, but  also the tools of the future?

Just a thought.

What do you think?

Picture by Kenn Wilson 

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    • The truth is that students aren’t necessarily that proficient at using social networking. They’re engagement with social networking appears passive and rather unspectacular. 

      The fact is that new ways of communicating such as social networking do offer our students a vast range of new possibilities that can potentially have an enormously beneficial impact in the way they learn both from us and by themselves.

      The problem is that we – their teachers – are failing to teach them how to make the most of this new (better?) way of communicating. As a result, our students simply do not see the academic and pedagogical potential of social learning.

      Teaching students how to use these technologies effectively for academic purposes is essential if we want them use them appropriately, less sporadically and more spectacularly.

      Many thanks for your comment.

  1. It’s not just the younger generation that’s moving away from email. I’ve been using email less and less in recent years – and I am fast approaching 70 years of age. Nearly all my communication with family and close friends takes place via social networks, especially Facebook, which I use every day and which I find extremely useful for keeping in touch. I enjoy seeing photos posted by my family and friends and their amusing stories and links, which always brighten up my day. I also belong to four Facebook groups, which focus on my professional interests. I probably use Facebook more frequently on my iPhone than on my computer. See “My life online” blog contribution:
    My wife, Sally, who is around the same age as I am, is another Facebook addict, and she also uses Second Life to communicate with people – but a totally different set of people from those who are her Facebook friends. I use Second Life mainly for professional purposes, e.g. delivering training to language teachers.
    I don’t think email will die for some time. I still find it invaluable for our small home-based business. It is now the main means of communication between our business and our customers. A few years back the telephone was our main means of communication, but now we rarely use it and we got rid of our fax machine a couple of years ago as documents can be transmitted easily and more cheaply as email attachments, mostly PDF files. As for postal services, I probably post one or two letters a month, and 95% of the post that drops through our letter box is junk.
    And you are right about CDs. I cannot remember when I last bought an audio CD. We still have an ancient (but powerful) Kenwood hifi system in our lounge that dates back to the 1990s, but it works perfectly in conjunction with iTunes and Spotify and a wireless transmission device connected to a laptop computer – or plugged directly into my iPhone or my wife’s iPod.

    • I don’t actually think email will die, its functionality is simply being incorporated into online asocial networks – both Facebook and Google already provide an email address to those who require one.

      What I’m really wondering in this blog post is: in forty years time, will I say things like “And you are right about emails. I cannot remember when I last sent an email”? 

      In my mind, these considerations have obvious implications for schools: are we teaching our students to be prepared for the future or to hang on to the past? 

      Thanks you so much for your comment Graham.

  2. Where I work all students have a College email address (which they rarely check!!) and it is interesting how when they do email tutors they do so in a very informal way – no Dear XYZ … no Kind regards … straight to the point and almost as if they were sending a BBM or a text.  I wonder how they will get on when they go into the world of work and realise that in fact in the business world email still plays such a big role.

    • My point is that I suspect email will play an ever decreasing role – even in business – as the current generation of students begins to fulfil the potential of the the new – perhaps improved – ways of communicating that they have embraced and are helping to shape and develop to suit their needs.

      I suspect a more accurate (but perhaps less provocative) title to this post could have been Is email in its current form already obsolete?

      Many thanks for your comment Glenn.

  3. José, I agree with you that email is playing an increasingly less important role as a means of communicating with family, friends and colleagues at a distance. Social networks such as FB and mobile devices have taken over this role for most young people – and for me too. I also agree with you that teachers need to help young people make the most of this way of communicating.
    However, you tend to overlook the way in which email is used in a business context. I have been a partner I a business since 1982. In the course of that time we have used a mixture of different ways of communicating – postal services, telephone, fax and email – which I have already mentioned in my previous posting. From around the early 1990s email began to take over. Looking at our transactions over the three months, ALL of the communication was done by email:
    1. initial enquiry by email about our goods or services received from the customer,
    2. my answer by email to the customer’s enquiry,
    3. order received by email from the customer as a PDF attachment,
    4. goods (i.e. software) sent by email to the customer as an attached zip file – or made available as a download from the Web,
    5. invoice sent by email to the customer as a PDF attachment,
    6. notification of payment received from the customer as a PDF attachment, payment having been made by BACS or PayPal.
    We deal mainly with schools, and we get our knuckles severely rapped by their finance officers if we provide goods or services without receiving an order form bearing an order number and the signature of someone authorised to spend the money – an electronic order form is 100% acceptable. We also get our knuckles severely rapped by HMRC if we do not keep accurate records of all of our transactions – which by law must be kept for six years (and schools are obliged to do the same). Our records used to be mostly in paper format, but now they are mainly in electronic format.
    Similarly, I now receive all my personal and domestic bills by email: BT, gas and electricity, mobile phones, credit cards, etc. I pay them all via the Web and I receive notifications of payment having been made via email.
    Email has changed a lot since I began using it in the mid-1980s. In those days the user interface was very unfriendly, and it was impossible to send any kind of attachment. In the early 1990s more friendly interfaces appeared – I remember CompuServe’s interface being one of the first that looked good and was easy to use. Email may disappear in its current form, e.g. sent and delivered by tools such as Outlook or Eudora, but then it will be replaced – at least in a business environment -by something similar, which will still be some kind of email. I already use webmail a great deal. It’s just a different way of doing the same thing.
    In the early 1990s I was the evaluator of a two-year email project known as ELNET that linked schools in southern England with schools in France and Germany. I still have electronics records of the ELNET project. They show that initially the students were very poor at communicating electronically. The teachers had to intervene regularly to teach them how to do it, and as a result the students became much more articulate. Similar kinds of intervention would be desirable today to help students make the best use of social networks.

    • The point I’m trying to make, obviously rather clumsily, is not whether email is useful to us now – it most clearly is – but rather whether email, as we know it today, will continue as useful to them in the future as it has been to us. You appear to think so. I am not so sure.

  4. I asked this same question on Twitter, and surprisingly most replies indicated email is not obsolete. Personally and professionally, I believe it is heading toward obsolescence, for the reasons you state. I am not sure why other educators don’t agree. Email is now two decades old. It needs a replacement, a form of communication that is more efficient and effective. Such forms of communication are already available, and educators need to tap into them and phase out email.

  5. Social intelligence is the real issue. How do we teach it, who teaches it, and how is it learned? The actual means of communication will always change and develop.

Your feedback is always welcome

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