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Is Email Really Going Away?

In the 2009 to 2011 timeframe, there were a number of articles in the trade and popular press about the demise of corporate and personal email. Many believed that email use would dwindle as younger people entered the workforce, those weaned on social media and text messaging. Email was for the “grups” (you’re welcome, original Star Trek fans), while newer forms of communication would replace it.

Maybe someday, but not now. We just completed a survey with corporate email users to determine if that was the case. What we found is that 42% of email users are employing email more today than they were 12 months ago, while only 10% are using it less. The remainder are using email at about the same level they were a year ago.

Our research also found that email continues to be the dominant communication tool used in the workplace. For example, the typical email user does something in their corporate email client or corporate Webmail for a mean of 149 minutes on a typical workday. That’s dramatically more time than they spend on the telephone (66 minutes), instant messaging (29 minutes) or the Big Three social media tools (10 minutes).

Why is email still so popular? The most obvious answer is that email is ubiquitous and standards-based, and so sending an email or attachment to someone can be accomplished with very high reliability. However, I think there are two additional reasons that email is so popular:

  • Email is the corporate equivalent of call screening, a fairly common practice and one of the primary reasons we like caller ID and voicemail so much. Someone can send us an email or an attachment and we don’t have to do anything about it until we want to do so. Unlike instant messaging, text messaging or a real-time collaboration system, we can receive an email and not interact with the sender, or we can send an email and not have to interact with the recipient. In short, email gives us the flexibility of timing our social interactions in a way that other tools cannot.
  • Second, email is our “junk drawer”—that repository of emails, contacts, files and other information that acts as something of a flat-file database in which we can store content that is easily searchable. Moreover, anyone can add to our database by doing nothing more than sending us an email. Yes, there are those minimalists who maintain little in their inboxes—but most of us are “pack rats” that store thousands of emails and other content somewhere in their email system. Using email in this way frees us from the tasks associated with being file managers, since we can almost always find whatever we need in our email system.

The bottom line is that email is not going away anytime soon.

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