September 10th, 2006
Fred Wilson thinks that AOL’s lousy spam filters drove the under-18 generation to reject email and embrace instant messaging and text messaging. If Fred is right that there’s a generation coming up that will never use email, then it may slowly die off as older generations slowly die off — but that’s going to take a long time, just as it will take a long time for print magazines to die off.
It’s also possible that Fred is wrong to conclude that because the under-18 generation doesn’t use email now, they never will — as one of the commenter’s on Fred’s post pointed out:
Having made my way, in the past seven years, from being “a kid” to being “an adult,” I will say that you are correct about children using email; namely, they don’t. But saying that they “never will” is not correct. When your kids go to college, they will be forced into using email simply to communicate for classes, with teachers, and to other students. And, clearly, when they reach working age they’ll need email.
What I’ve seen is that teenagers make little use of email to communicate amongst themselves, but once they make extensive use of it in college, everyone slowly “jumps on the email train.” Eventually they use it socially also. It will happen with your kids too.
Another commenter observed:
There’s a fundamental difference, though, between e-mail and IM. E-mail is asynchronous while IM is synchronous.
You’re right in all of the facts – AOL mail is horrid, poor spam filters make e-mail unusable, kids have taken to IM like a fish to water, etc.
But, fundamentally, the next generation will need an asynch communications mode. It might be SMS. They might get back to e-mail (esp. in a corporate setting). But asynch IS the right tool for some jobs.
Technology is evolving so rapidly that it’s naive to discount the possibility that a superior technology will quickly supplant an inferior one (see Google search). But email as a primary mode of communication is so deeply entrenched that it’s unlikely to be replaced any time soon — spam may be a scourge, but as another of Fred’s commenter’s pointed out it’s “only a matter of time” before spammers turn their attention to IM and other popular modes. Wherever there is attention, there will be people trying to steal it.
I maintain the view that there is a huge hurdle for people to adapt new technologies — once they find something that works well enough, they generally stick with it, eschewing incremental improvements, until something truly life changing comes along.