The vast majority of electronic communication today is via social media, according to Paul Greenberg, a relationship management consultant. At first I didn't believe it. But then I thought about the viral nature of communication via social networks, and the statistic started to make sense.
So, I have been thinking for a while that I need to stop using email, but I was never sure my hunch was right. Finally, through the process of deciding to put photos of my kids on my blog, I realized that email is now old-fashioned. Here's why:
1. Email is inefficient.
Email is one-to-one communication and social networks one-to-many communication. (Here’s a good link about that.) If you have something meaningful or thoughtful to say, why not say it to many people? It would mean that more people share ideas and more people understand your way of thinking. Also, there are so many pieces of our life that we tell at different times to different people. Why not just say it once? We all have email overload: we parse our messages into 40 one-to-one messages instead of just a single one-to-many message.
Email is also an inefficient way to hone your writing skills. A Stanford study shows that people develop better writing in social media than in the classroom. In the classroom you write for a single reader, the teacher, who is a captive audience—it's her job to read your writing. But in social media, you have to persuade a group of readers to accept your way of thinking, and you have to be interesting. So you will get better and better at your job—which is, for all of us on some level, communicating—if you use social media instead of email.
2. The intimacy of email is overrated.
If you want intimate communication, send a handwritten letter. I receive one of these almost every week, so I know the custom is not dead. And I pay attention to them much more than email. The act of seeing someone's handwriting is intimate because handwriting reveals so much about a person. Email is not intimate. It's a workplace tool, and it's also a pile of junk we're always trying to get to the bottom of.
Most of the information you send via email is for work, (which is the premise of Seth Godin’s recent advice about using email). Email is not a good tool for ideas. It's a good tool for sniggling details. You don't want to spend your life in the irrelevant details of mundane tasks. So the fewer emails you send, the more time you spend in the realm of either execution or ideas—more powerful than details. Execution happens outside of email, and ideas should happen in groups—which means social networks.
3. Your privacy is overrated.
First of all, you don't have a lot of privacy. You are getting everything online for free, and in exchange you are letting someone sell your data. You don't have enough money or enough time in your life to use the Internet in a way that does not invade your privacy. But, so what? The value of your privacy is very little in the age of transparency and authenticity. Privacy is almost always a way of hiding things that don’t need hiding.
In social media, the relevant parts of you will fall to the relevant places, which is why you can be your true self wherever you go, and it's okay that you don't have privacy. Your employer is not interested in your profile on Facebook because it doesn't reveal anything about how you perform at work—it reveals what you're like at a party. Employers will read the parts of you that are professional, and friends will read your personal announcements.
So this is why I'm comfortable posting photos of my kids here. I used to worry that it would invade my kids' privacy. But I'm realizing now that privacy won't matter when my kids are growing up. When I interviewed media theorist Rebecca Blood, she said that kids today already manage their online lives like they are Hollywood celebrities and therefore their parents cannot guild them about privacy online.
If this is what we're doing now, I can only imagine how little privacy will matter ten years from now.
Also, one of the great things about social media is that it gives voices to groups that have hereto-with been without one. Like the experience of parenting. Sally Mann was called a pornographer when she published her stunning photos of her kids. Today, mommy bloggers publish these sort of photos (though admittedly not as stunning) every day.
Also, I am struck by this post on the blog Peaches & Coconuts. Debroah writes about struggling to get through the week when her partner is out of town on business. And she says she doesn't over-schedule her kids so they will go to Harvard. She over-schedules them so she can get through the day. And, she notes that her kids are not going to get into Harvard anyway, she can already tell.
Many people would say, “What will the kids say when they read this?” But you know what? If we don't write about our kids we cannot write about our experience parenting. It's like when women first wrote about orgasms. I'm sure people said, “What will your husband think?”
Who benefitted from the conversation? Everyone, right? Good orgasms make good sex for everyone. And good parenting makes better lives for everyone. And transparency trumps privacy every time. So put your ideas in social media, not email.
So, here’s my contribution to a more transparent conversation about what life is really like at the intersection of work and life: a photo of my son. I think it should be titled Breaking from Work to Eat Lunch with Superman: