It is quite a hard feat to try to describe our means of communication while being immersed in them. But allow me to try.
Immersed we certainly are.
Broadband access and internet have become commodities. They are something we rely upon and we expect them not to fail us. The net is everywhere. Free wi-fi in shops, trains and planes, data on our cellphones, even in the desert you can rely upon a satellite signal.
We are living in a digital era, as Peter Hinssen describes it in his book, digital is "The New Normal".(1)
One of the main game changers in this transformation has been email. And when I say "has been" email you may have a hint of where I'm going.
Email helped or even made a lot of us plunge deep in the world wide web as it was called back then. It was an ignition spark. It was mail but faster, archivable, leaving no footprints in our paper archiving systems but a floppy disk or two. It was progress.
It was said it would replace snail mail. The mail that goes on foot, in the bag of your postal delivery guy.
In some cases it has but not fully. Many official papers still get to us by the postal services.
But maybe it has replaced it in another way.
I believe email has become the new snail mail.
First it is becoming less and less synchronous. How many mail do we keep in our mailboxes to reply later? Except when it is from our boss, we may reply with a lag of a day or two with no harm done. And even with our boss we gonna take our time. Because spoken words may fly away, but not our emails.
Even at work, if email is still used to ask a quick question it is also a lot about statuses, memos, archiving a decision, proofs that we did something, it is a digital trace of our endeavors. We keep it as we kept papers in a file.
Even the social codes or etiquette we used in snail mail are replicated in email.
A proper address; "Sir, "a polite ending "Kind regards, " a signature.
More importantly, to further the comparison between email and snail mail: it has been replaced by other tools.
Tools that are more synchrone: Instant Messaging such as BlackBerry Messenger, Facetime, Skype, What's App, Facebook Chat... and many more, including text messaging, which is maybe a more private medium nowadays. Restricted to happy fews who know they are allowed to use it.
Tools that are more social also: Social threads, as on Facebook of course, Google+, Twitter in mentions or Direct Messages... and again many more.
Also when it was supposed to evolve, it failed. Email is about 40 years old already. A huge corporation tried to invent the email 2.0. It was named Google Wave. It was great! Yet it failed.
It failed because they set to create the email as it would be if it was invented in 2010. But no one would need to invent the email in 2010 when it is outpaced (and by far) by live messaging and social communication.
To make the mail more synchrone and shareable added no value compared to the already existing means of communicating.
That is why I believe email is the new snail mail.
An important tool that we will still use a long time from now for archiving purpose and formal communication, but a tool of the past.
Meanwhile, communicating together has switched to our pockets and to web tools, to walls and to threads, to tweets and to blogs.
With a whole world of new usages and habits to discover. And that is thrilling!
(1): Peter HINSSEN, The New Normal - Lannoo - 2010