We’re nearing the end of email, maybe


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:

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  1. A Gift Wrapped Life
    A Gift Wrapped Life says:

    I will take having lunch with Superman any day over doing emails. Reminds me of my son wearing a red cape all through kindergarten. Your posts are always so thought provoking and hit on subjects we don’t think on by ourselves. Thanks!

  2. Jonha Revesencio @ Happiness
    Jonha Revesencio @ Happiness says:

    People that I don’t have email addresses, I could easily see on Facebook. You are right about students writing better on social media than in classroom because they have more freedom, thinking about little to no boundaries at all.

    • KateNonymous
      KateNonymous says:

      Based on the quality of writing and clarity of thought I see displayed on social media…well, the idea that that forum provides an opportunity for “better” writing just makes me sad.

      I’m amazed by the number of people who don’t understand that words have meanings, and spelling helps identify which word you’re using–and therefore helps the reader understand your point. I wonder why, exactly, that outlook fosters good communication.

      I’m also not sure we’re seeing the end of e-mail. I think we’re seeing a shift in how it is used, perhaps, or in its importance. But that doesn’t mean it’s going away.

      • Ardith
        Ardith says:

        Thank you for you comment. I completely agree with you and really appreciate you’re posting your insight.

  3. Sherif Koussa
    Sherif Koussa says:

    Great post Penelope, I disagree though that email is going to end. I would say that people now have other sorts of digital communications other than email which used to be the only way of digital communication for a long time. Social media is take some market share from emails that’s for sure.

  4. Brigitte
    Brigitte says:

    Earlier this week, I was midway through an e-mail to you when I stopped and decided to tweet my book recommendation (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) instead.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah, Brigitte. This is what I mean. This is how I think things should be. For example, I get SO many good links in my email — people sending me great stuff that is perfect for my blog. But why not do it in twitter so that the whole world can see that you are recommending something so interesting?


  5. Jim
    Jim says:

    I’m inclined to think that conversation that happens in e-mail that is better done via other platforms will migrate there, but that e-mail will have distinct usefulness for a long time yet.

    • Veronica Sawyer
      Veronica Sawyer says:

      I don’t know… Some people will cling to email but there will be some who will be relieved to be rid of it.

      That’s the way I feel about the phone. I hate talking on it, hate receiving calls, have a pay-per-use cell phone for emergencies only and conduct all business and social interactions through email. Moving to a system that can broadcast like social media rather than one-to-one email will be tough for some to adapt to, but probably a relief for many.

      Think of those stupid group emails people still send with “funny” cartoons or sob stories about people you don’t know. Having that broadcast through twitter or facebook feels less invasive and offensive than getting a direct email. If you don’t like it you don’t have to look. It is not addressed specifically to you.

      • K. Shoals
        K. Shoals says:

        That sealed it for me: “If you don’t like it you don’t have to look. It is not addressed specifically to you.”

        This is the greatest and worst aspect of email, in relation to social media. I definitely don’t like the group (junk) emails, however, it gives me insight because I then have to wonder, “Why did this person send it to ME?” Do they think I would find it funny, or this is my thing? Sometimes, I learn that a person doesn’t know me at all because of those group emails (especially if I was bcc’d).

        On the other end of the spectrum, considering the fact that I don’t tweet (for personal use, that is), social media seems to be a forum for even more nonsense. I often read random thoughts, angry rants, ridiculous routine updates, and wonder “Why?” Seriously. Is anyone really that interested in you? Or, better yet, I finally log on only to learn something important or really interesting that I’m hours/days late on responding to because I wasn’t specifically notified…sigh…I’m sorry you had a death in your family, but had you called me, I could’ve expressed my true empathy…not the internet version, that will get lost in the “I’m sorry for your loss” one-liners.

        In the end, I think the social media forums are more for the individual – giving them an outlet for whatever comes to mind and an excuse to express it…”If you don’t like it you don’t have to look. It is not addressed specifically to you.”

  6. LP
    LP says:

    If you retitled this post “The End of Email as a Personal Communication Tool,” maybe. I never send personal emails to anyone except my mother, who doesn’t do social networking and would rather I called, anyway. But most of us are forced to spend a fair amount of our workday communicating information (or ‘sniggling details,’ as you call it) to colleagues. A wiki could work pretty well within an organization, if you could teach all the boomers how to use it, but email is still an invaluable tool in communicating with (and maintaining records of communication with) folks outside your immediate org.

  7. Michael Cramer
    Michael Cramer says:

    I think this may divide along generational lines. Having just turned 61, I am just beginning to become comfortable with e-mail. There is no hope for me when it comes to using a cell phone. I practically have a heart attach everytime the damn thing rings, not to mention fumbling with it to get it out of that oh so ever convenient holster.

    I took a shot at Linkedin but then decided the benefits of having it were far outweighed by the hassle of worrying about and managing my account. (Guess I really am a 20th Century man). So the overexposure and the incessent need to share do not appeal to me in the least.

    However for under 30’s what else do they know. We’re entering a new world here, and I am finding it useful to narrow rather than expand my bandwidth in terms of technology and content.

    So if Brazen Careerist goes off of e-mail and only on to Social Media, it may coax me to give this whole thing another look…and then again maybe not.

    Have mercy on us dotering oldsters>


  8. Jens Fiederer
    Jens Fiederer says:

    My mileage varies.

    I use both email and social networks, but prefer email for one to one (and one to many, there is such a think as a distribution group!) communication. This is largely because my gmail has excellent indexing and archival, whereas my social networks (Facebook and Myspace) are hopeless in that regard. I set up my Facebook so that messages go to my email as well, which helps a bit.

    The social networks shine for random broadcasts, though.

    • BJ
      BJ says:

      Agree with this post as I frequently find myself going back to emails to find things. Maybe I need better organizational skills – will have to check out gmail.

  9. Jeff
    Jeff says:


    Couldn’t agree more. I look forward to the end of email as a medium for communicating ideas. Details…maybe, but I think Google Wave will sufficiently handle those too.

    But…I am not going to pay $20,000 for you Superman Pic…:)

  10. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I think employers do care what they find on Facebook, and that they do care what you are like at a party. Certainly professionals will find that potential clients are attracted or repulsed by personal attitudes and affinities.

    It’s not that this is a bad thing — it’s just that lack of privacy is not inconsequential.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Click the link I included up there about employers not wanting to engage in lascivious reading on Facebook. Jason Warner, who was at the time a VP in human resource at Google, pointed out that recruiters don’t have time to do an FBI check on everyone. And recruiters know that everyone gets drunk and looks stupid sometimes. What employers want to do is as quickly as possible figure out how someone will function at work — how do they think, how are they with analysis, how engaged are they in their career, etc.

      Actually, this is a good time to point out the value of BrazenCareerist.com — it’s a place where employers and employees know they can quickly figure out what someone would be like to work with, because it’s people purposefully showing the professional side of themselves.


      • KateNonymous
        KateNonymous says:

        It depends. My husband and his colleagues check Facebook and MySpace for their hires. The reason was made clear when they recently fired someone who had a serious attitude problem that led him to insult higher-ranking employees to their faces and ignore instructions. While they had a couple of caveats about hiring them, they wouldn’t have hired him if they’d seen how he talked about the jobs he’d already had.

        He didn’t get fired because of what they later found on Facebook and MySpace, but it did confirm their decision to let him go–and they wouldn’t have hired him if they’d seen those profiles to begin with.

        And that doesn’t even touch on the case of the woman losing her disability payments because in her Facebook vacation photos, she looked happy instead of depressed.

        There are lots of ways organizations are using these and other sites to evaluate individuals. Privacy settings are still ignored at your peril. Ten years from now, who knows? But that’s ten years from now.

  11. Tina
    Tina says:

    While you raise some interesting points, I would actually disagree your comment about employers not caring about your Facebook profile. Some employers have candidly admitted that they search FB to check on employees and potential employees. Whether its appropriate or ethical is up for debate, but the fact is, some employers do it. And it can relate to perception and questions of judgment – what if a client sees the picture of an employee with a keg? Will that hurt business? Some employers are concerned that it could.

    • KateNonymous
      KateNonymous says:

      I don’t think it’s inappropriate or unethical. If you don’t want potential employers to see something, set your privacy settings accordingly. If it’s publicly viewable, the public (including your boss) can view it.

      And, yes, you have no control over what your friends post on their profiles and how that presents you. But you can always untag yourself on their photos, which limits your exposure.

  12. Nina
    Nina says:

    Interesting article.
    I would not agree to some of the things (e.g.: A good email should be written like a letter; whether it’s by hand or typed in email is only the medium. That emails are so much more soul-less than letters, as you say, is because many people are not writing emails with attention to the recipient or to what they write ;o)

    I also would not agree that people will only consider of your FB or other profile what falls into their line of concern, like ignoring private photos or posts when your connection to someone is work-related.
    I know several people in bigger corporations who use Xing, Facebook and others when searching for future employees with special skills. And they told me they refrained from contacting someone if the private details they were shown or read (also the language used) put them off. Like seeing the person drank every weekend, used a lot of swear-words in status-updates, etc. Ultimately, that decision might be good, though, because the chemistry at work has to be right. And if the private details someone sees would put them off, maybe they would not be such a good team anyway. (Just thinking out loud.)

    Something else I find interesting is the borderlines we walk when cultivating separate online lives. Over time, the closer contacts will know who is behind the avatar/chatter name. Others will not know and it is none of their business. Because that gives you the chance to try new things; to become someone else too, if you will. Some people I count now among my friends needed a year and more time to finally show a picture of what they look like in their real lives. And I don’t think it is being nerdy and hiding away, but being given a chance to live and show yourself according to what you feel inside. The psychological effects of that are being researched; the first findings look very interesting; it seems it has a positive effect on your real life and your outlook on life, if you are given the chance to start with a clean slate and a persona you crafted to your liking (to put it over-dramatically).

  13. Nina
    Nina says:

    very weird when talking about transparency: the box above for “Name (required)” reads my name as it is: Nina.
    The posted comment appears as being written by a Tina …

  14. Robert Persson
    Robert Persson says:

    I use Facebook a lot because it is where the people are and because it offers ways to address others and be addressed in several registers, but I ffffing hate using it. It is excruciatingly inefficient. I have to spend 15 minutes at the very least every day trawling through crap to find the important things. There are very few options to customise your feed. For instance if someone has 2000 friends, I just don’t want to know every time she adds a friend, but if I disable those notifications, I miss out on stuff that really is worth reading. I could give many more examples. Another thing is that text boxes are too small and I end up writing crap simply because I cannot read what I have typed.

    Compare this to GMail. Every time I receive a mail from someone I think I may end up receiving another mail from, I set up a filter. The result is that nearly all my mail arrives in my inbox already tagged and ready to archive. Unlike with Facebook, I can then glance at the list in my inbox and check most of them immediately as ready for marking as read and archiving. It is so quick. And when I want to send a mail I get a nice big box to write in. I can also archive my mail easily to my own offline storage, whereas with Facebook you can do a rather imperfect backup with a third-party Firefox extension, but that’s your lot. Nor can you search your mail very easily, whereas GMail, like many desktop mail clients, has very powerful search operators. You can’t even tag Facebook messages as important. Of these, I think it is the inability to back up your own data that causes me the deepest concern.

    I also have it on good authority that the quality of Facebook’s software engineering is shite. Apparently they have 6 different implementations of copy-paste that all behave slightly differently.

    I’m going to investigate Google Buzz and Wave when I get more time. Perhaps they are the way forward (once the security issues are definitely resolved). Google know how to make large quantities of data manageable and they know how to write good software.

    • Ardith
      Ardith says:

      Great observations, Robert. I think the Facebook interface sucks. Actually, I think most social media interfaces are painfully awful, and for no good reason I can think of. While each network is useful in its own way, I’ve yet to meet one that delivers an enjoyable environment in which to commune.

  15. DAVE
    DAVE says:

    Hi Penelope – €“

    Interesting post. While I disagree with your premise, and understand your need to be provocative, you do raise some interesting questions. Here are, I hope, some additional ones:

    The vast majority of electronic communication today is via social media:
    Perhaps, but even if true, does this matter? Is it (and should it be) an either / or equation? I use social media. I use email. For me, both are useful, but have different purposes.

    email is now old-fashioned:
    Books are too – you remember print, right?–but I don't want to get rid of them. Radio is the "next big thing" of a century ago, but I still listen to it almost daily. And to me, some movies still just have to be seen on a huge screen in a theater. Old School? Sure. Retro? Yes. Out-moded? Maybe, but I think it depends on the needs of each user, their intended use, and what they want to get out of their experience with each media they use. You say POtato, I say poTAto, etc.

    If you have something meaningful or thoughtful to say:
    In my experience, many people think they do, but really do not. I was always taught that the first rule of successful communication is to "know your audience". This is hard to do, and even harder to please them when your audience is, literally, everyone, no?

    Why not just say it once?
    You joke about sending someone a letter. Instead, perhaps I should just purchase a billboard, or an ad on the SuperBowl? Would you really always want to share all of the same info with the farmer, a co-worker, your grandmother, your children, and the rest of the world? (OK, YOU might, but I'm not really sure that the rest of us should.)

    It's a workplace tool:
    True. What would you replace it with? I can tell you from experience that having everyone comment on everything all the time (via our IM tool at work) IS helpful when you are seeking input. But when you aren't, it is like trying to get that proverbial sip of water from a firehose. Sometimes, some filters are both good and needed.

    imagine how little privacy will matter ten years from now:
    Probably so, but to me this is only a good thing if it is done by choice. With opt-out capabilities becoming the norm, do most users really even understand who owns their data and the long-term implications of this?

    That said, thanks for letting us all Eat Lunch with Superman. 

  16. Carlos Pelay
    Carlos Pelay says:

    Maybe social media is “de-modernizing” our society with respect to privacy, bringing back aspects of a more traditional small-town way of life where your neighbors knew a lot more (too much?) about you (including the names of your kids)?

    Is this good..what we want? Maybe that’s what the explosive growth of facebook, twitter, etc reveals: a craving for more connectedness that we lost with sprawl, suburbia, commuting, etc.?

  17. Scott
    Scott says:

    I personally still use email and think it will be around for some time. Facebook is good to send general information out on, but I don’t want everyone to know everything about me…
    Also, my wife just went to a career workshop where they told her NOT to have any questionable photos or posts about herself on her Facebook page just in case employers look at her profile.

  18. Gwenny
    Gwenny says:

    Thank you for articulating my views about privacy so well. Privacy equals secrecy to me and secrecy is used to cover up so much bad stuff. The bottom line is, if you think what you are doing is wrong, don’t do it. If you don’t, eff the rest of the people.

  19. ericwells502
    ericwells502 says:

    I will take having lunch with Superman any day over doing emails. If you retitled this post “The End of Email as a Personal Communication Tool,” maybe. I never send personal emails to anyone except my mother, who doesn’t do social networking and would rather I called, anyway.

  20. Julian Summerhayes
    Julian Summerhayes says:

    Hi Penelope

    I am not trying to blow sunshine up … but this is the best blog I have read in a long long time. If you write a book then sign me up now. For me I just love the way you cut the crap and get to the point.

    Have a great weekend.

    Kind regards

  21. sadya
    sadya says:

    but here’s what ur missing . that the email ID does & did become a part of our overall ID. for us who made our first email addresses back in say 1997 on hotmail or yahoo, that email id somehow became our online& offline ID , something that separated us from other generations. Yes i know ur saying that NOW its redundant , our FB/ twitter/linked in/ BZ profiles are our true profiles but our aint-i-pretty@yahoo.com email address is our real business card.

  22. BJ
    BJ says:

    Have wondered for some time about this topic Penelope. Thank you for putting it out there. I ask many to join FB in the hopes that I could have my circle there and not in email. I like that I can stay connected with someone and it is up to them to keep their email current – not up to me to remember to update my email address book with their latest preferred email. In some ways FB to me is visual email. First time I have posted to your blog but have read for some time now. Enjoy your writings. Superman is a cutie.

  23. Olivia
    Olivia says:

    Yes a very thought provoking article this one. I can’t really write much as I am still thinking. I am also frightened of launching in to an essay.

    But man what a great post/ piece of writing.

    One thing… I have great concerns with privacy. We are so over regulated in the modern age. I am more concerned with the possibility of misuse or abuse by state authorities and the government. Monitoring our SM conversations, tracking our online movements. Governments driven by market forces. Hence the importance also placed on corporations and their ability to follow users on the internet and get a personal blue print of what sites you visit with retargeted ads.

    Oh and read this little piece of “Mastery”. The Digital Economy Bill has been passed in the UK- read especially the comments. How are your civil liberties going in the US after the wake of Bush rushing through Bills?http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/apr/08/digital-economy-bill-passes-third-reading

  24. Ebony Sager
    Ebony Sager says:

    I agree with a number of your points about our use of other communication mediums because they are more efficient, viable or even appealing than email but I wanted to share this blog post from Blue Sky Factory http://bit.ly/aWW2jT that I read recently. Granted, they are in the business of email marketing but take for what its worth. The post talks about email being the digital glue between all your social profiles (many of your online applications as well). It is the one common connection between all your spread bits of personality. The central node to who you are online. Interesting how the two points cross. I think that email may be changing but we will not see the end.

  25. Kate
    Kate says:

    I like the orgasm analogy.

    My parents are scared of fb. My brother is in college and he keeps my mother on his limited profile, so she doesn’t ever know when he’s partying all night. It seems to work out. I think fb feels a little dead these days anyway, and I’m wondering what employers even care about it.

  26. Pat Hufford
    Pat Hufford says:

    E-mail is going to go away? Not due to social media, that’s for sure. It was the first major “internet app” and has survived the rise of the world-wide web, chat rooms, instant messenger, social media, and probably the next big thing too.

    You’re forgetting that a lot of e-mail today is done at the business level where social media doesn’t work and probably never will. It’s a supplement to business communication at best.

    Heck, at the bottom of this posting form you have a checkbox that says “Notify me of followup comments via e-mail”. When you seriously think this, you’ll change to the be “Facebook” or “Twitter”. I’d bet a large sum of money that you NEVER seriously consider changing it to either of those.

    You might be asking…what makes you so sure? Because social media like twitter and facebook are supplementing phone calls, face-to-face, and texting not replacing anything. E-mail, on the other hand, has replaced writing personal and business letters for many people.

    The first major use of e-mail was for research institutions to share information on an academic level. How can social media ever replace that kind of communication that needs and expects peer review before publishing? Social media would DESTROY the scientific method if used in the same way we use it today to communicate with friends.

    • Jens Fiederer
      Jens Fiederer says:

      > Heck, at the bottom of this posting form you have a
      > checkbox that says “Notify me of followup comments via
      > e-mail”.

      That’s a good point. Although Facebook would work, too, since I have FB notify my email of anything interesting.

      If anything, the social networks have made email MORE relevant, not less. I participate in several social networks, I even have several email addresses, but there is ONE email address that ties everything together.

  27. Michael Cortes
    Michael Cortes says:

    Wow! Interesting and timely post. I am sure to come back and re-read this several times.

    Just today, someone called me creepy. “Why?”, you may ask. Because I let it be known I was reading their Twitter page, without actually following them.

    It’s twitter. It’s not hidden. It’s public. If you want to be found on the Internet, then it’s going to be found.

    So is privacy overrated? I don’t know. But I do know privacy must be traded in, if you seek exposure.

  28. Huefte Schmerz
    Huefte Schmerz says:

    I will never give up email, it is quick and simple and you don’t have to support networks (by watching ads). Spam is an issue yes, but I am only using white lists anyway. I would tell stuff to many people but these people just don’t want to know about it. How many minutes a day are you spending reading what people like you are doing? Just make sure you test your server by sending e-mails with malicious-like scripts in such programming languages as Visual Basic and ActiveX to check exactly what gets through your e-mail system. These should not actually be malicious tests – just code that should invoke your antivirus software or other protective measures on your e-mail server or gateway if your software is configured and working correctly.

  29. Otto
    Otto says:

    We’re nearing the end of reading, maybe.

    The vast majority of information conveyance today is via television and movies, according to Bob Nobody, a person I just invented. At first I didn't believe it. But then I thought about the nature of television and movies, and the made up statistic started to make sense.

    So, I have been thinking for a while that I need to stop reading, but I was never sure my hunch was right. Finally, through the process of watching an extended Twilight Zone marathon, I realized that reading is now old-fashioned. Here's why:

    1. Reading is inefficient.

    Reading is one-to-one communication and television one-to-many communication. It’s very hard for more than one person to read a book at the same time, but a whole family can watch TV together. Heck, you can fit a few thousand people into a large movie theater. Super-efficient!

    2. The intimacy of reading is overrated.

    It’s very difficult to be intimate with somebody else when you’re along. But when watching TV or in a darkened movie theater, intimacy is so much simpler to accomplish.

    3. Your privacy is overrated.

    For many years, our government has had laws about things like books and protecting the government from monitoring which books people are reading. This prevents them from getting lists of books you checked out at a library, for example. But there’s no such controls on monitoring your TV viewing habits, or your movie rentals! Heck, lots of people even opt-in to sharing this information. So, privacy is clearly dead.

    Thus, reading is completely dead. The future will be all about visual media! Most of it in 3D! Whooot!


  30. Margaret G.
    Margaret G. says:

    I have tried to see your point about social media replacing e-mail but unless I am missing something, I find it really hard to accept in the context of small businesses. Take my sister and I. She is my boss. I am her employee. She lives in Georgia. I live in Mexico. So to have a social media network of two (okay, three, if you count my brother-in-law but he prefers to stay out of it most of the time) seems pretty silly and unnecessary. Furthermore, these last two years would have been impossible without e-mail, given the distance between us.
    On the subject of snail mail, I miss it like crazy and recently figured out how to at least add a personal touch to e-mail. I have long handmade my cards for family and friends, but during these four years of living outside the States, I more or less gave up on sending my cards to people back home, until last year, when I started making them again last year, scanning all sides of the finished product and sending the jpg to the person, so they still get to see my art and my handwriting, because you're right; it's very intimate and it says a lot about a person. I save the hard copies in a folder here and when I am back in the States next month, I will give all the recipients their hard copy of the file they already got. It's a compromise for living in a country where things take six weeks to send.
    Finally, and sorry to be so chatty today: the post you linked to about perfectionists only has 42 comments. Would you say this is because it's from 2007 you have a lot more readers now? Or do you have the same number of readers and it's just that people are commenting more now than they did three years ago?

  31. Gwenny
    Gwenny says:


    Actually, email IS going away for my business use. I am encouraging my agents to append documents, pictures and other information to Waves I create for each transaction. I look forward to the day when all of that is handled in a collaborative environment where all parties are party to the information.

    Granted, since it’s new and only a few agents are on board, I still have email notifications enabled to let me know when they add something. But eventually I expect to only have to have Wave open for all my information sharing needs.

    • Pat Hufford
      Pat Hufford says:

      So you’re using Wave, but what about the rest of the planet? You even admit yourself that it’s new and only a few agents on on-board with it.

      Maybe your internal business is going to eventually move to Wave (other businesses have been using Microsoft’s SharePoint for the exact same thing you are for a decade now, by the way) but your external customers are still likely to contact you via e-mail or the phone. Which, amazingly, hasn’t gone the way of the dodo yet either.

  32. Becky
    Becky says:

    Love the point about privacy. I agree with Carlos above. “Privacy” is a relatively new concept to the human species. For 99.9% of our history, we lived in small groups and villages where everybody knew everything about everybody. While that *can* be creepy and judgemental, my dream is that transparency can be combined with a bit more-liberal social mores to wear away the evil forces of hypocrisy and secrecy.

    To me, the biggest challenge facing us today is not to protect the privacy of the people, but to *enhance transparency* into places of power – corporations and government.

    If we could easily review a detailed accounting, cleanly presented, of how government (and corporate) decisions are made and implemented, imagine the effect that would have on trust and efficiency.

    Secrecy undermines trust.

    If a person has lots of online pictures of themselves binge-drinking, then guess what, they’re a binge-drinker. Maybe their future employers would like to know that about them? Probably there are managers out there who party pretty heavily themselves, and would *rather* hire someone who can hang. Either way, employers *should* hire a whole person, not a cardboard cutout employee mannequin that pretends to be someone they’re not from 8 to 5 on weekdays.

    I used to think that it was “professional” to check my personality at the door at work. I did; and I was stressed, anxious, isolated, and miserable 40 hours a week. Once I decided I didn’t care whether my co-workers thought I was kind of a freak, and opened up … hey wow, they liked me better. What a concept. And, I get to enjoy what cool people *they* are too. Lesson learned – privacy equals isolation.

    The more of us there are who quit pretending we are perfect, the more we are liberated to bring our entire selves to our endeavors. We stop wasting energy hiding our lights under bushels.

    And your Superman is 100% awesome.

  33. Mike
    Mike says:

    I disagree with this article.

    1. Email is inefficient:
    1.1 The writer’s first argument, that email is one-to-one, is entirely false. Have they never cc’d someone or hit ‘Reply-all’ in an email before?

    1.2 The writer uses a study about writing skills in soc-med vs the classroom to draw a conclusion about writing skills in soc-med vs email… I’m not so convinced these two parallels really are parallel.

    Also, concerning social-media requiring convincing a group of readers, my experience of this involves LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS AND WORD CONJNCTNS, not quite the literary prize writing I would expect in a 5-paragraph essay. Furthermore, in essay writing you actually need to Prove something, not just Convince the masses enough to get them to move.

    2. “The fewer emails you send, the more time you spend in the realm of either execution or ideas – more powerful than details.”
    At the end of the day, ideas are nothing without the details, which apparently the writer is arguing do not exist in soc-med conversation, but only in email? This to me is an argument for the continuing necessity of email. This argument also presumes that email is inflexible, necessarily adhering to some writing-style protocol.

    3. Your Privacy is Overrated
    In this section the writer starts by arguing that we have no privacy. Having no privacy and privacy not being important are two different things. The argument that “transparency trumps privacy every time” is not proven here in any way, and I for one disagree, and think I will trump my authority over the writer for my own purposes, this time.

    Let’s conclude with an analogy: If email is calling up one person on the phone, or otherwise selecting who you conference call for an exchange of ideas, social media is like standing in the middle of the street and yelling at the top of your lungs for everyone to hear. At the end of the day, there’s a good chance that Most of those people not only don’t care, but are actually kind of annoyed that you don’t direct your thoughts, event & group invitations and detail-less ideas to a pruned tree of contacts. That’s why Facebook’s news feed functions on an algorithm of “what you are most likely wanting to see from your friends”, with the option of “standing in the middle of a room filled with all your friends as they all shout at you at the same time”.

    Of course, there’s always more to the story…

  34. Lea
    Lea says:

    I use Facebook to e-mail people on a regular basis, and the groups I “like” e-mail me as well. I don’t think e-mail is dead — perhaps e-mail as a separate entity from social networking is dead, at least for social purposes. It will live on for business communication in part due to the ease of sending files as attachments.

  35. Anthony Papillion
    Anthony Papillion says:


    I love your stuff so, please, don’t take this as a slam in any way. But we’ve been hearing about the ‘death’ of email since the mid-1990’s for many of the same reasons you’ve mentioned and we’ve yet to see it lose its foothold on the internet.

    Email serves a useful purpose and it’s mot going anywhere for a while. Even with the technology we have today, few things beat the convenience, universal reach, and user friendliness, of email in many situations.

    Don’t get me wrong, there’s a LOT wrong with email and I do believe it will be replaced one day soon. But not for a very long time.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Well, that’s my opening point, right? That there is clear evidence that email is losing foothold. It’s becoming less and less relevant in the world of electronic communication. And, Pew Research found that most teenagers today would rather use a cell phone than a laptop. So I think as the laptop feels more and more clunky, email will feel clunky, too. And that is not far away. That is happening right now.


      • Frank
        Frank says:

        But who cares what most teenagers do? There’s lots of things people do and use as teenagers that they stop doing and using in the work world. I think you need to spend a little time doing some field work—and not in social media virtual offices.

        Your experience is limited, and there’s a lot of industries and businesses that have barely stopped faxing contracts and documents. Sending attachments securely is still not really practical through a social network site, and while WAVE and other shared servers are certainly useful, private emails are more efficient.

        Privacy is overrated? I’d say Gray Powell would disagree with you. Not everyone thinks like you do. Perhaps you might do well to remember that.

  36. Siddhartha
    Siddhartha says:

    I appreciate the research you do for your posts. It's not just opinion, it's an educated opinion backed up by relevant facts and authoritative sources.

    As a fellow blogger I know how much longer, and how much more work, it takes to produce this kind of work rather than a fluffy "my point of view" post. So my hat's off to you.

    And thanks for introducing me to the work of Sally Mann. I hadn't heard of her before (maybe I'm hanging out in the wrong circles) but I found her photographs breathtaking.

    Thanks for all your efforts to add value to the community.

  37. Isao
    Isao says:

    I wouldn’t have believed your story two years ago, but ever since my company introduced a business version of FaceBook (Yammer), the emails in my inbox (the ones that matter) dropped to a single-digit level. We really are heading to a new era.

  38. John Soares
    John Soares says:

    E-mail still has the advantage of privacy over social media, and also of reaching just the people you need.

    Example: we’re planning a dinner for 8. We had to do several rounds of e-mails to deal with everyone’s food and beverage restrictions — vegetarians, no gluten, no merlot — and the e-mail rounds with Reply All made it work.

  39. Amanda Hite @sexythinker
    Amanda Hite @sexythinker says:

    What’s fascinating to me is watching how the medium itself (tv, radio, email, social web) changes society and our culture.

    Email changed our work lives. And, it's not because of a particular email that we’ve received. It's just the fact that we have email that's changed the way we work and how we do business.

    We’re experiencing that now with the social web. Because it exist we’re witnessing a huge shift in power and voice to the people, unleashed collaboration and uncomfortable amounts of transparency and access. Most importantly it’s connecting us to each other in a way that so profound we’re only noticing the surface of it’s potential. As our world continues to adopt this new medium at a rapid pace we’ll realize there really is no use for the older mediums.

    I can’t wait until the day a child ask me “what was email?” and I reply “it use to be a thing we used to communicate and send things to each other when the internet was just a kid.”

  40. john
    john says:

    Nice job linking to the mit site which has is almost entirely unrelated to your post. The graphic listing email as a ‘one to one’ almost does it, however in the paragraph it specifically says that email can be sent to multiple recipients, so the sender’s intent determines who receives the message. That article is more about usenet than anything like social media as you describe.

  41. Page 48
    Page 48 says:

    I want people to stop emailing me until they know the difference between ‘then’ and ‘than’?

  42. Mneiae
    Mneiae says:

    Google Wave was touted as the new thing, but without its free release, it has yet to replace IMing and e-mailing. I honestly use Facebook more often than e-mail in order to communicate. I find that people have a faster response time on Facebook than e-mail; perhaps it is because there is less spam in any given Facebook inbox.

  43. JenG
    JenG says:

    What I worry about with regards to privacy is that the ability to share personal details is outstripping the human brain’s capacity to stop judging. Even though sexual talk among women is more common, I think many still judge you inappropriately for doing so. Shoot, I still get out right STARES at the fact I have a tatoo in the company I keep. Lots of folks are still quite conservative, and sharing is not appreciated by everyone. I feel like I’ve actually become less transparent with social media than I am face-to-face. I admire your courage, P.

  44. Amy
    Amy says:

    The thing I’ve learned, is that the social media platforms aren’t mine. I could wake up one day to find that the rug has been pulled under me, and that I may have relied too much on these networks – €“ and then they can take advantage of me. What if they started charging me for using them? What if they determined my contents to be unfit for public viewing and delete my archives, my profile, everything?

    My only concern is control – €“ I for one would like to have control over what I’m sharing with others. Privately or publicly; and it doesn’t matter if it’s via email or social media.

  45. Chris M
    Chris M says:

    In my opinion, the email will continue to exist for a long time, even if in a smaller scale.

    At work, when I have to discuss the strategy for launching a new product with a business partner, we use email accounts securely stored in our corporate servers. I would never use Twitter, Facebook or a Gmail account to discuss sensitive information. Some of our email communications have been replaced by collaboration wikis and such, but every tool has its place, and none is being entirely replaced (except for fax, which should die a quick death).

    My nephews and nieces (12-19 years old) also use email to send me news that they don’t want to share with the world via a social media tool. They use their phones more to text and send emails than to make calls.

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