Four Pillars: Generation M and e-mail

Thanks to Dave Morin for pointing this article out to me, suggesting that e-mail is losing its clout in a Generation M context. Like Dave, I love one of the quotes, from a Ms Kirah at Microsoft:

  • “Like parents, they try to control their children,” she says. “But companies really need to respond to the way people work and communicate.”
  • The focus, she says, should be the outcome.
  • “Nine to 5 has been replaced with ‘Give me a deadline and I will meet your deadline,’ ” Ms. Kirah says of young people’s work habits. “They’re saying ‘I might work until 2 a.m. that night. But I will do it all on my terms.’ “

I wish I could say the same of the rest of the article, or for that matter the rest of what Ms Kirah has to say.

Here’s my $0.02 on where e-mail is going, as a result of watching Generation M working:

1. E-mail is now snail-mail, with all its consequences. A chore to do; formal and structured with letterheads and signatures and logos and all that jazz; a few important letters hidden in the midst of a pile of junk; usually filled with secondary spam as well, attachments and advertisements and whatever else people want to put into your e-mail envelope; hard to file, hard to find, rarely providing the context necessary to comprehend it and act on it; yet still part of our communications process, but far less so for Generation M.  And people read e-mail like they read snail-mail. If you haven’t got their attention in the first few sentences, then it doesn’t get read.

No longer fit for purpose, although it served many glorious purposes for many years.

2. Attempts to extend the breadth of e-mail by connecting everything else to a mail mindset will fail. Calendars and schedules; to-do-lists; reminders; alerts and subscriptions. RSS readers. Whatever. Over the last ten years we have seen the mailbox morph into something that has become a catchall for all this, and this was natural. For us. Not for Generation M. We are used to getting reminder letters from dentists and doctors and what-have you in snail mail, and we have faithfully reproduced all this in e-mail. Wrong. Paving cowpaths.

3. Like snail-mail, e-mail will not die. It will just gently become the electronic equivalent of snail-mail. Just look at what’s happening:

  • (a) your e-mail address just became your phone number anyway, as telephony became software
  • (b) there are better tools for point-to-point communications, especially with time-sensitive information; so people will use IM and texting for these
  • (c) where a richer dialogue (multilogue?) is called for, blogs and wikis and IM, social software in general,  allow you to connect the conversation with the context. Like putting notes and comments on a flickr photo, or participating in a multipartite IM “channel”. As a result of this connect between conversation and context, it is easier to multitask, context-switching is cheaper and more reliable

4. The most important legacy that e-mail will leave us is the electronic contacts book, which (along with calendaring) will move inexorably towards a pure web-based world. Part of each person’s minihompy in the sky will be a personal address book and calendar, as our 19th century mail/calendar/contacts get past the growing pains of “social networks” and become part of our minihompies.


Maybe I can make it simpler. Why do I think e-mail could atrophy into an electronic variant of snail-mail?

Because I don’t see too many Generation M-ers wandering around with Blackberries. Or even Treos.

Now if the BlackBerry were an iPod phone with iPod coolth and iTunes support, and space for my photos and my videos as well, that just happened to let me deal with e-snail-mail and even browse the net, then….


4 thoughts on “Four Pillars: Generation M and e-mail”

  1. if we could only put a IM function in email, thast would change the playing field drastically

  2. Presence would certainly help. So would the concept of subscribable channels. Taking cc and bcc would help as well. Better ways to file and to retrieve would go a long way. A pub-sub approach to mail lists would simplify things. Doing away with attachments and concentrating on links and urls would be a good thing. Finding some way of connecting the content to the context would be great.

    If you had all that, you’d have blogs and wikis and channelised IM. If you had none of it you’d have SMS and simple IM.

    Which leaves e-mail ….. somewhere….

    Good to see you back, Bobby. Coffee or dinner in the week of the 14th?

  3. Excellent point about email. It’s been inundated with spam and useless information. The younger generation has already figured out that everything from calendars to conversation will be mobile in some manner.

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