'Email Is Probably Going Away!'

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg predicted that with only 11% of teens emailing daily, the future of email might be ... no more email.

Sounds scary, but she's almost certainly on the right track*. It's not because we will get tired of expressing ourselves to other humans, or because we'll enter a post-work society, or because we'll become cognitively incapable of processing more than 140 characters at a time. It's because of technology. Writing letters made sense, and then the telephone happened. Transporting everything by train made sense, and then planes happened. Email is great, but someday _____ will come along. And so what?

Trying to guess the hot new technology in the next 20 years is like trying to point to where a bee will land in exactly 20 seconds. It's not merely impossible, it's basically pointless.

Consider:

-- Twenty years ago, there was practically zero commercial email.
-- Eighteen years ago, there were practically no mobile phone text messages.
-- Fourteen years ago, there was no AOL Instant Messenger.
-- Twelve years ago, there was no Google.
-- Eight years ago, there were no BlackBerry smart phones.
-- Seven years ago, there was no Facebook.
-- Six years ago, there was no YouTube.
-- Five years ago, there was no Twitter.
-- Four years ago, there was no iPhone.
-- Three years ago, there was no public Gmail.
-- Two years ago, there was no Apple App Store.
-- One year ago, there was no iPad.

Things change fast. Email is probably going to be eclipsed* by something better that comes along. I'm not rooting for it, I'm just extrapolating.

Let's just hope its replacement is easier to use than Google Wave...


*Updated: Never meant to suggest that email would literally cease to exist. Even elevator men still work in some buildings in DC... talk about vestiges of another age. I only meant that the idea that email will eventually be eclipsed seems scary and literally incredible, but it's almost certainly inevitable.
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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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