26 August 2010

Social Networking and the Death of Email
On my way out of school this afternoon, I heard a 10th grade student say to another, "Email? Who uses email anymore?"

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.
So social media is a major part of how their lives will move forward.  I'm teaching students who've grown up with social networking, from MySpace to Facebook to Twitter, and those experiences will reflect the way they help to shape technology in the future.  Therefore, it's important for me to find ways to incorporate that into my classroom in order to make learning and technology relevant to their situation now and to help them learn how to use it safely and effectively.

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.


  1. I really depends on the purpose of the communication and certainly students now use different types of faster communication then email. The bottom line is that we still do need to teach all forms of communication platforms and they will need to use it for their work environment (most likely), although who knows what the mode of communication will be in 5-10 years.

  2. It's funny, I have just finished setting up a mass email tool for a school and my parting words were, "This is all great, but email is fundamentally dead and you need to get to work on your Twitter and Facebook accounts."

    I have been giving this information to a lot of other organizations as well. More and more people are paying less and less attention to email, primarily due to the vast amount of garbage that they receive, most of which they signed up for.

    Social sites not only give you instant feedback, but if you are trying to get someone's attention, they give you instant access.

    Email is as dead as the newspaper or the video store. Teaching communication via social networks is inherently more complex. With email it is so hard to stop receiving communication we had to write laws to force commercial users to comply with unsubscribe requests. With social networking ignoring or unfollowing is a simple one click process. In addition, much of the communication via Twitter and Facebook is publicly accesible. It is therefore critical to teach restraint and to help students understand the purpose of establishing a personal brand.

  3. We need to watch the youth & younger generations to see the waves of changes that are coming. Thanks for you post - it inspired one of my own on the subject: The Death of Email & the Mouse & other predictions my 3-year old helped me make

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  5. I've actually been thinking about the relevancy of email in this day and age. I personally like email and the sort of format that comes with it, sometimes. What I don't like about IM services and the like is that they usually are used for fleeting topics, gone in the wind like the conversation about it last month. Idk. I just want Google+ Messenger and I'm good. lulz