According to a poll conducted by Robert Haft Technology, electronic mail will lose out as the dominant form of communication in the office, at least according to 48% of the respondents. While anything is possible, I find that highly unlikely. Similar predictions were made about Instant Messaging, and how it would replace e-mail (like this one from 2006). Guess what? It didn’t happen. Yes, IM usage has risen, and it is an important form of communication for many people. But e-mail is still one that is generally reliable, and far more useful when communicating with multiple people. It allows attachments such as documents, and easy embedding of links and other relevant data. It doesn’t require much more than an e-mail client and an Internet connection. It is still one of the most portable and platform-agnostic forms of electronic communication.
These sorts of predictions are interesting, and it can give some idea of what CIO’s and CTO’s are thinking about for their corporations. But, let’s face it, most predictions around the end of something “status quo” don’t usually fare too well. The computer was going to herald the “paperless office” and eliminate or vastly reduce the use the paper. That didn’t happen, and if anything, the computer and simplification of printing has increased, not decreased, the generation of paper documents. The fax machine was going to reduce the amount of physical mail we received. Again, that didn’t happen. It required a special machine and ideally a dedicated phone line. The fax was, and still is, very important, but it didn’t supplant paper, an envelope and a stamp. The VCR was going to destroy the movie theatre and television networks: that didn’t happen either. Movie attendance was dropping prior to the advent of the VCR, and it didn’t change much when the VCR came out.
Sometimes the status quo is shaken or replaced entirely. Cassettes and vinyl gave way to the CD, which has since lost significant ground to the MP3. PDA’s had a brief day in the sun, until smartphones made them redundant. Book sales have started to decline as electronic books gain ground. The VHS tape was largely replaced by the DVD, but the DVD has lost very little ground to Blu-ray, and currently streaming/downloaded video is still pretty small.
Unless and until a replacement technology is an improvement in some meaningful way, it’s predecessor will continue to thrive. Electronic mail and Internet access to bills has dramatically reduced that amount of paper bills sent via the mail, because it is convenient. The fax didn’t supplant regular mail because it wasn’t convenient enough, with it’s requirement of a dedicated phone line to receive a fax at any time. The MP3 player was more convenient and more portable than the CD player, which was something of a step backwards from the cassette in terms of device portability. The rise of the DVD coincides with the rise of larger flat-screen TVs, which could take advantage of the improved picture. The Blu-ray, though, isn’t substantially better on modestly-sized flatscreens, so it doesn’t justify it’s higher price for most people.
Will e-mail go away? Not for a while. It still allows an easy way to send long messages, is supported by many, many types of devices, and is platform agnostic. Most PCs, smartphones and tablets comes with some kind of e-mail client, and even some don’t, there are browser-based options. Unless something comes along to improve on that in a meaningful and substantial way, e-mail is here to stay for a while.