Yet, despite all the prognosticators predicting it will—choose the violence level of your metaphor—go out of style, be put out to pasture, or taken out back and shot, email grinds on.
You can't kill email! It's the cockroach of the Internet, and I mean that as a compliment. This resilience is a good thing.
"There isn't much to sending or receiving email and that's sort of the point," observed Aaron Straup Cope, the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum's Senior Engineer in Digital and Emerging Media. "The next time someone tells you email is 'dead,' try to imagine the cost of investing in their solution or the cost of giving up all the flexibility that email affords."
Email is actually a tremendous, decentralized, open platform on which new, innovative things can and have been built. In that way, email represents a different model from the closed ecosystems we see proliferating across our computers and devices.
Email is a refugee from the open, interoperable, less-controlled "web we lost." It's an exciting landscape of freedom amidst the walled gardens of social networking and messaging services.
Yes, email is exciting. Get excited!
* * *
For all the changes occurring around email, the experience of email itself has been transformed, too. Email is not dying, but it is being unbundled.
Because it developed early in the history of the commercial Internet, email served as a support structure for many other developments in the web's history. This has kept email vitally important, but the downside is that the average inbox in the second decade of the century had become clogged with cruft. Too many tasks were bolted on to email's simple protocols.
Looking back on these transitional years from the 2020s, email will appear to people as a grab bag of mismatched services.
Email was a newsfeed. With the proliferation of newsletters, email alerts, flash sale emails, and other email-delivered content, one's email client became a major site of media consumption. It was a feed as much as an inbox.
Email was one's passport and identity. Before Facebook became a true alternative for verifying one's identity on the web, the email address was how one accomplished serious things on the Internet. Want to verify a bank account? Email. Amazon? Email. Forums? Email. Even Facebook in the early days? Email. And it meant something where your email address was hosted. FirstName@YourLastName.com signaled you owned a domain. A Hotmail account might indicate you were a beginner and a Well address connoted early Internet connectivity. For a time, Gmail addresses were a sign of sophistication. Now, both the functional and symbolic importance of email addresses is in decline. There are so many more ways to signal who we are online now.
Email was the primary means of direct social communication on the Internet. Email was how to send a message to someone, period. BBSs, chat rooms, and message boards have existed for as long as email, but email formed the private links between people that undergirded the public channels, which evolved before and with the web. Now, there are a lot of ways to reach someone on the net. There is one's phone, Facebook profile, Twitter account, LinkedIn, Instagram, Qik, WhatsApp, etc., etc. It's telling that in the mobile world, app developers want access to a user's phone's contact list, not her email connections.