Wow, I thought, maybe I'm farther behind than I thought. I've tried to innovate in the classroom, bringing in elements of social networking and mobile computing, but is that enough? Have I been clinging to a dead technology in the form of email?
As I pondered those questions on the way home, I came to a realization of sorts. Yes, for our students, email may be dead. I thought back to when I was in high school and how I communicated with other people. Telephones, cellphones, chat rooms, instant messaging, et al. What do those things have in common? Instantaneous feedback. When I was younger, it was all about getting the most information as quickly as possible--living in the moment--and I imagine that it's much the same for students today. They want to know what's going on with everybody all the time, and social media allows them that luxury in ways I couldn't have imagined at that age.
At the same time, I still think it's important to teach them the "dead" technology of email, because I think that it's (in the immortal words of Monty Python) "not dead yet."
Back to my personal experiences. Sure, when I was a high school student, I wanted that "right now" experience, but as I grew into an adult, email became more and more important for me. In college, much of the communication from my school came via email. As an adult, email became even more important, as it allows me to have meaningful 1-on-1 correspondence with people, it allows me to easily organize conversations and schedule follow-ups, and it allows me a virtual paper trail that's important in so many areas.
I see the difference between social media and email much like I do the growth of readers as they mature. In high school, I may be into fantastic tales of sparkling vampires or magazines about cars or comic books about amazing heroes, but as an adult, I grow into self-help books or The Atlantic Monthly or The Wall Street Journal. Sure, I still have my box at the local comic shop, and I'm a self-proclaimed Twitter addict, but when it's time to do business, I don't turn to Facebook.
As important as it is for me to live in the moment and meet my students in their digital world, it's just as important for me to help them acquire the skills that will serve them in life, and email is still one of those skills. I may look back on this post in ten years and wonder how I could have defended the use of email and see it as an archaic mode of communication, but for now, email still lives.