Ray Tomlinson sent the first email 45 years ago, way before many of us were born, and his message was the advent of one of the most important communication technologies ever developed. Today, it’s estimated over 2.5 billion people use email, and over 200 billion emails are sent and received per day. Almost every aspect of our lives is tied to email. School? Uses email. Your job? Probably uses email. Organizations you volunteer/donate to? You better believe there’s email. But what is it’s role in informal conversation?
Most of the emails I receive are either offering me discounts on purchases I shouldn’t make or are formal communications with my professors or colleagues. Email is a professional communication medium, not a personal one. And when I asked my FaceBook friends if they use email as a platform for informal conversation I received much the same response. While it allows us to communicate with people across the globe it seems to detach us from the recipient. It’s not instant, there’s no visuals, and it’s not designed for a quick back and forth that you experience in live conversations. If somebody sent me an email saying, “Hey, how’s it going?” I probably would be a little taken aback by the informal tone. In contrast, if somebody texts me that, it’s no surprise. Although, I am fully willing to admit that as a young whippersnapper I may not have the same experience with email as older people do; their history with the platform may be more extensive and thus seem more personal to them.
In comparison, I think FaceBook messenger is a more personal way to communicate with people for the reasons email isn’t. It’s instant, conversational, and can include live visuals. The app is used by over 900 million people (on both Apple and Android) and it’s a growing market. But it doesn’t have the formal appeal that email does. While it can be used to talk to co-workers, I wouldn’t recommend applying for a job via FaceBook message. Why is there this divide in kind of use? Because younger people use social media to a greater extent, and they may not have the professional obligations their parents do? Maybe.
Regardless of why this divide exists, it’s an interesting reality. As time goes on will FaceBook continue eating into email’s share of digital communication? Will a generational divide change the way email becomes used? Communication methods have dramatically evolved in the last 125 years, and I’m interested to see where it goes from here.