In today’s digital world full of noise, competing technologies and time-zapping apps, the current generation of always-on Millennials are craving organisation.
We can already see how they are drowning in information overload; constantly checking into their social channels and using instant messaging systems for 24/7 communication.
Email is the premier form of online communication from Boomers to Gen Y using it and work and play, more recently alongside the slow spread of newer concepts such as Slack. Email usage figures prove this, with numbers of email accounts only set to grow – a predicted 5.59 billion by 2019 according to the Radicati Group (2015).
But for the forthcoming generation known as Gen Z, and even Gen Alpha after them, it has been speculated that this form of communication is in danger of becoming irrelevant.
If it were true, this would be worrying, but this isn’t my opinion. This instant communication generation just hasn’t needed to see the benefits of it yet.
An article in The Wall Street Journal recently suggested that for this age group, sending your first email has now become a digital rite of passage. For previous generations, email has naturally been part of everyday life but this is the first generation that aren’t communicating through email, favouring the instant conversational and multimedia tools like Snapchat, WhatsApp and social networks.
This theory is backed up by a report from App Annie based on research for Android phone usage in the United States. It said that for ages 13-24, messaging apps were preferred to email with these young people spending more than 3.5 times more time using IM against those over 45.
If young people want to complain about the treatment they’ve had from a brand, they’ll go to the brand’s Twitter or Facebook page. They’d never think to start with an email to the customer service department as we once did. If they want to show friends and family what they’ve been up to, they’ll post a picture on Instagram. They have no need to attach it as a file to an email and forward it on to their address book as we did – while groaning at the time it took for the image to upload and send!
Even those that may have used email for keeping in touch with distant older relatives can now normally be satisfied using social networks. A 2015 study claims that a whopping 75% of internet-using parents are on Facebook. It’s now much easier to tag mum in a meme than drop her line to keep in touch.
So will this shift in online communication habits be the final nail in the coffin for email?
We think not. This difference in communication tool usage between generations is just another in a line of differences between the teens and the grown-ups. No different to TV viewing habits, fashion choices and social activities. Just because you’re satisfied with watching Thatcher Joe videos on YouTube doesn’t mean you always will be.
Likewise, emojis and videos delivered to your friends via Snapchat will never suffice when it comes to delivering sensitive and important information. Because at these crucial points, an IM or quick chat won’t cut it.
When Gen Z and beyond do adopt email, for the most part when they begin their professional lives, I believe today’s Millennials will then actually be far better at ‘dealing’ with some of the perceived pitfalls of email.
This generation will eventually be far more balanced in their digital lifestyles than anyone before them. They have grown with the technology and this allows them to keep the aspects they like and adapt others to their needs.
This is a stark contrast to previous older generations who had it forced upon them and had no choice but to use the technology in the way set down by its creators.
No longer will these new generations want to check email first thing each morning, send a flood of messages each day and come back from holiday to an overloaded inbox.
But with email tightly woven into the fabric of our digital existence, they will need it and it will need them.
How else will they communicate with official bodies such as Government or universities? What will they use to send documents for purposes such as buying or renting a home, getting married or opening new bank accounts and financial transactions. This can’t be solved as yet with a Snapchat.
A dull static email tool is rightly an alien concept to them. But like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, it has a place within the wider mix and can be as convenient, engaging and useful as the others.
As soon as they start to seek out tools that offer a digital life balance where quality prevails over quantity and where the ability to focus directly trumps the noise, they will find email.
Of all our channels, email is the one associated with getting stuff done. But it would be wrong not to admit it started the glut of information overload. That is why France is now suggesting a law to prevent people receiving work emails outside of working hours.
At 4th Office our technology is showing the relevance of email for the 21st century and beyond. It can be flexible and even fun when using our artificial intelligence to organise and filter. We eliminate as much noise as possible and flag up the important stuff that needs dealing with quickly. That is my dream for the future of email and the possibilities it still has to be effective as a messaging and organising system.
Against 140 characters, a direct message or a quickfire round of chat, there is no comparison to what positives it can still offer.
Here is an infographic on how generations shift from email to messaging apps.