Part of the perennial problem with our assessing both individual digital tools like email and the huge digital brands that have rapidly developed is our being schooled in a way of thinking in which Situation A is replaced, traumatically but clearly, by Situation B. The idea that Situation B is one in which there is no Situation B, but in which rapid evolutionary developments spin off every which way, constantly coalescing and then shape-shifting, is beyond the ken of mere mortals except when we are in the zone to have that particular convo. Am I not right?
Seems to me that is what Brits, of whom I used to be one, call a statement of the bleedin’ obvious – or, to be more elegant, it is close to being self-evident. Yet ignoring it has led to everything from ridiculous IPO over-valuations to cringingly embarrassing repudiations of Twitter by media executives to the depressing fact that political leaders see the future entirely in terms of the past.
So, to email: no question, the idea that we type our letters and send them electronically instead of by fax (some of us are old enough to remember how hot that was!) or postal service is starting to wither. Not because there is another way to send mail than the e-way, but because letters are now being innovated. That’s what’s really interesting here, and I am not sure if I have seen anyone point it is out in quite these terms. Fax and then email became successive vehicles for the old-style business letter (and its personal equivalents, though never so comfortably in that department). Now the “letter” and the office memo and the phone call – the three-legged stool of business communication – are slipping and sliding around into our new forms from texts to Facebook to Twitter (I’m waiting for DM to to get more functional, in which case it could go BIG) and the gazillion other options. We have begun to re-think the need for one-size-fits-all set-piece documents (that is, “letters”); and the innovation of the letter is what we are now discussing.
Email, seen as a cheap and easy fax machine, is a transitional form. Into what? There will not be any one standard successor. Since even the most informal communications tend to be recorded, for better and often for worse, a text or DM will serve as well once we are prepared to recognize that.
Craig is certainly right that there will be no “new” Facebook. My sense is that Facebook (and probably Google) will soon be seen as the last of the behemoth brands in areas that are rapidly becoming utilities and in which interoperability and generic alternatives will very soon destroy the possibility of economic profit (sorry, IPOland). We shall have a thousand ways into “the social network,” paths will all cross, and in ways we have yet to get our heads around communication will actually get simpler and ever more intuitive. This will happen in a lot less than than many expect.