Sensationalist proclamations of email’s demise have circulated for years, and yet, we continue to use email all the same. You’ve likely brushed by headlines such as:
Those hot takes cite contributing factors such as information overload, inefficient communication, poor organization, outdated appeal, stress effects, and hacking scandals.
In response? Similarly passionate rebuttals lauding email’s irreplaceable services that have become ingrained in the fundamental way we use the internet. Email, they declare with a grin, is the proverbial undying cockroach in our digital apartment.
Moving past the wide-sweeping predictions, we examine what in email’s unique nature has compelled its continued and growing use worldwide.
A Foundational Base
Your coworkers all use email. Everyone in the office next door has an email, too. Could you confidently say that about any other digital communication medium? As NY Times tech columnist Farhad Manjoo explains, it is “the party that everyone’s at, even though it may not feel like a great party.”
That may be true, but even the most anti-email options (say, Slack or Asana) require your email address to sign up. Email has situated itself as the online base from which further interactions proceed. More than a mere legacy technology, it works for and alongside the majority of digital applications.
Perhaps this reality is so intrinsic to the growth of internet that email is not a primitive form we evolve from, but rather a foundation we build upon.
Email’s consistency is often cited either in praise of its continual familiarity or in condemnation of its lack of progress. Indeed, while the way it’s used “has remained virtually unchanged” for decades, calling email’s offerings stagnant would be a gross misrepresentation.
Filters (and laws) have emerged to remove the once daunting presence of spam and help categorize and prioritize your incoming messages. Standard features like the search function are in tip-top shape and if that’s not enough, a bevy of useful plugins are at your fingertips. Major email providers have developed clean aesthetics and, most importantly, excellent mobile compatibility.
It is remarkable that email manifests both simplicity and flexibility, the latter of which is most evident in its multifaceted uses.
Instagram and Facebook are superior newsfeed providers, but neither is used for workplace communication. Slack is the headliner in that department, but you’re not using Slack for large-data delivery. Dropbox can help you there, but you lose out on the social communication that SMS and Snapchat afford. Et cetera, et cetera…
Email might not be the best platform for anything, but it is sufficient in everything. Including the specific functions above, email is a to-do list, a record keeper, a personal planner, a portable address book. And most significantly, it’s our main unit of online identification.
As if that were not enough, consumers prefer to use email for commercial purposes and content marketers consider it their workhorse in acquiring sales. Emails are a budget-friendly medium with capabilities of wide outreach as well as individual personalization.
Perhaps the root of email’s survival lies in its natural freedom; unlike its alleged replacements, email is not a product owned by any singular entity. Rather, we use email because it’s an “ecosystem” born of an open standard protocol. One that continues to bend and adapt to our evolving needs.
Also published on Medium.