Anyone who works with teens, has a teen in the household, or pays attention to communication trends knows one thing for certain: young people do not use email. In a revealing discussion with four high school freshman about technology, communication, and education, the girls in this video say that they only use email to talk to “ aunts, uncles, teachers, and older people.” (quote is 2 minutes in) According to comScore’s whitepaper, “The 2010 U.S. Digital Year in Review,” email usage is down a whopping 59% among teens. Instead of email, teens are using text messages and facebook as their main methods of communication.
Stephen Abram has a great post about what this usage drop means for libraries in terms of needing to communicate with users. In the post, he talks about expanding the ways in which we communicate, updating patron information, and being mindful of privacy issues when dealing with different mediums. All of these are great suggestions and reminders that we need to not only be constantly rethinking services, but we need to be rethinking basic information and communication strategies as well.
There is a key element that goes far beyond the reach of libraries and has huge implications for organizations: how will we communicate at work if so few young people use email? If so few young people use email, then there are some challenges every employer, library or otherwise, is going to have to confront.
If younger employees do not use email often, then this becomes a training issue when they enter the workforce. When we begin hiring employees that do not use email often, except to talk to family and the occasional college professor, they are not going to have any email skills. There are email etiquette rules that are generally accepted in business. I am not saying these are complicated; they are not. Many things that are common in email etiquette also hold true for online communication in general, but some are different. Email is still seen in some businesses as a more formal method of communication and so more formal rules apply. Rules aside, the routine of email also may contribute to the steepness of the learning curve for younger employees. Let us not forget that many email clients that businesses use are far from sophisticated when compared to online clients, liike Gmail, so there will be software training added to the mix.
Will we allow email some flexibility so that it is more accessible in ways that many people are coming to expect? Many businesses do not allow people to sync their work email to their personal phone for security or privacy issues. There are very good reasons for these regulations, but people are no longer willing to carry two communication devices. They want everything to come to one place. If employers, including libraries, want their employees to continue to use email, they should enable access to email to be as seamless as other methods of communication. If we are going to continue to use email to conduct business, then it needs to be more flexible. If security is an issue, then we need to be working on our security infrastructure.
If not email then what? Are there good alternatives to email? The problem with this entire issue is that there is not one good alternative to email. There are a few tools, when cobbled together, that can replace functions of email, but nothing else that comes really close.
Email is a way of business. Like it or not, email is not going to disappear overnight. It does still serve a purpose, so we need to find some solutions to the growing problems surrounding its use in a mobile world especially as the next generation starts hitting our payrolls.