Interesting Factoid about Email

I was talking about different email protocols in the class, and I noticed that the difference between POP, IMAP and SMTP is absolutely irrelevant to my students. I asked students in both of my classes if they ever actually used an actual email client like Outlook, or Thunderbird. Not a single hand went up in either of the classes. That’s around 52 college students who never, ever in their life seen anything other than webmail interface. In fact, most of them hardly use email at all. Most communication between them seems to happen via Myspace/Facebook.

When we work in the computer lab, most people have the following pages open in the background: Facebook, Myspace and sometimes Meebo. I have yet to see a Gmail or Yahoo inbox on someones screen. Two years ago, I actually seen people checking their email in the lab. It’s funny that my students seem to be a demographic completely opposite to my regular readership here who still prefer email as their primary means of communication.

My students seem consider it a necessary evil. They reluctantly check their university account because the old, backwards professors still use it for posting assignments and such. I mean, that’s like so 90’s it’s not even funny. Some of them also reluctantly use their AOL email which came free with the AIM account, to write emails to their mom and all the other old timers. Why can’t they all set up Myspace and Facebook profiles like normal people. :roll:

I know, I know. This is beginning to sound like an old fart rant about “the damn teenagers these days”. The thing is that I don’t have anything against IM, social networks, twitter and etc. I use them all, and I really think they are great. It’s just that sometimes people abuse them. For example, I can’t tell you how many times I had a back and forward correspondence via the retarded MySpace private message interface, and wondered why can’t this be done via email. After all, all we were doing was using an internal email-like system to facilitate an email-like exchange. Only the interface was klunky and lame, the conversation was kept separate from all my other email, and I actually had to go out of my way and log into MySpace to see if I got a reply.

But I guess it’s a matter of convenience. I check my MySpace 3 or 4 times a week, when I remember about it. On the other hand I have a Firefox plugin that checks my Gmail account and notifies me of incoming messages every minute or two. On the other hand, most of my students and many of my friends are the exact opposite. They are always logged into MySpace and Facebook but never actually check their email. So if we were to take the conversation outside their proffered network it would then be separate from all their usual conversations, done with unfamiliar interface, and forcing them to log into another application to talk to me.

So I do understand the issue here. Maybe we need an email-to-facebook messaging bridge or something… Nah, scratch that. I’m right, and they are wrong. I’m using an open, extensible platform. If I want to, I can encrypt my email, sign it digitally, attach whatever the hell I want to it, and I can choose a way I can read it. What they are doing is locking themselves in a walled garden where they can only talk to other inhabitants of the garden, only using the tools that the garden provides for them.

I’m suspecting that the difference between us and them is the degree of clue. Note that the people I teach are not technology or science majors. They are also not business school students, because they have their own MIS course geared for their “very special” needs. And yes, I mean special in the most demeaning, and condescending way possible.

My students are a motley bunch of all these weird majors that I didn’t even know existed. Like phys-ed, dance and nutrition for example. I mean who knew that you can actually get a college degree without ever learning anything about science and literature. I mean I really don’t want to demean their career choices or anything. After all they are in college, which is a good thing. It’s just that when I write a summation formula on the board in the Sigma notation and then I turn around to see 30 faces stricken with the expression of absolute, inexplicable horror, I get a little bit sad. I mean, this is something that they should know from high school math classes, and yet they all act as if they just lost sanity points after glimpsing at some contorted mathematical horror from the deep.

Then again I sometimes correspond to young up and coming bloggers and/or linux enthusiasts, who seem to be perfectly comfortable using email. So here is my theory: cluefull people, young and old tend to gravitate towards email since it is open, flexible and it facilitates structured, and thoughtful information exchange. They don’t reject social networks – they embrace them, but use the right tools for the right jobs.

Clueless people shun email, and remain perfectly content to live in their walled gardens of social networks complementing their lack of complexity with services like IM, and text messaging.

So, email is not for old people. It’s for cluefull people. The big problem is that not all young people out there posses a clue. In fact, most aren’t since the distribution of technological competence in general population follows the bell curve. So chances are, someone who you are trying to communicate with is not in the awesome tail of the curve, but rather somewhere in the middle. And clueless uses tend to think about using the right tool. They just use whatever is within their arms reach and doesn’t require a lot of effort or learning on their part.

[tags]email, im, social networks, email is for old people, social, clue[/tags]

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15 Responses to Interesting Factoid about Email

  1. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Damn straight! (says the 16 year-old email user :wink:)

    That’s alongside online forums, IM.. I actually intentionally avoid Myspace and Facebook and Bebo an their ilk.. but apart from that particular “social networking” section of the internet (aka providing too much information to anyone who cares to look) I communicate in a bunch of different ways, including email.

    I basically see it as IM/forum stuff being for throw-away conversations and email for anything I want a record of, or to be able to refer back to easily. Like you said, selecting the tool for the job.

    It does help that signing into MSN means I get notified as soon as an email hits my hotmail inbox.. but that’s just extra usefulness, I’d carry on using email without that. (Although client-email vs webmail is no contest for me – webmail all the way)

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    The thing about webmail is that it became usable only within last few years – pretty much when Google created their AJAX-ified awesome interface. Now everyone has one. Few weeks ago I logged into to my old AIM/AOL account via webmail for the first time in like a year and my jaw dropped. Their webmail used to be so horrible it was actually physically painful to use it, but now it’s actually… I don’t know, nice and sleek – almost Gmail like.

    So here is the thing – when Webmail meant either Squirellmail (which is a fine app, but not something I would want to use for managing large inboxes) or some contorted, proprietary beast, peppered with blinking banners and anti-user features I was the desktop client fan.

    Seriously, I swore up and down I will never use these damn webmail monstrosities for anything else than quickly checking my email from work/school. Fast forward few years and my mailing is almost exclusively done through Gmail. It’s just easier this way, because these days I pretty much divide my time between two or three machines.

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  3. Fatih Arslan TURKEY Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    You are actually right about the cluefull and cluelessi seperation. But think in this way. Most of my friends, who are actually students at EE, don’t know words like pop3,imap,and co. They don’t ever use like you said a mail-client. But on the other hand they are all smart guys. I think it’s all depending on the environment. If you hang up with people who are using imap,mutt,linux,terminal,co.. than this guy will probably know about this stuff.

    Last thing, sorry about my English :)

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  4. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    The other advantage of email is that you don’t have to roast your eyeballs on the festering html of myspace.com

    (pst: neither -ful nor squirrel end in a double l, although if you described someone as clue-half-full, it would…)

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    The festering HTML of myspace can be effectively combated with Greasemonkey. ;)

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  6. Tummblr UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I too am an exclusive user of webmail (Gmail now and Fastmail.FM before to be specific). I used to use Outlook Express and then Thunderbird, but I’m not surprised that the next (current?) generation web users never have any need of a desktop email client.

    I am surprised by the shunning of email by College students. I was in college only a handful of years ago, and I had no such feeling. The world still seems very much email-driven to me. In fact, it seems email-driven more so than ever. Finally, it is more acceptable to communicate by email than by phone or fax in most situations.

    The beauty of email is its universal adoption and interoperability. Every ISP provides customers with email service. Any user of any email service can communicate with any other email user. Any properly configured email client can operate with any properly configured email service. And the POP/IMAP/SMTP protocols are published, standardized, and mature. This is so not the case with next-gen social networks and even more mature IM networks. Maybe one day there’ll be a universal IM/social protocol/network such that I can ask for someone’s screename and message them as naturally as I ask for someone’s email address; today is not that day.

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  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Well, there is Jabber protocol. It’s free, it’s open and Google uses it for GTalk. So any client that supports Jabber can be a GTalk client. Jabber also supports transports – so you could configure your server to route messages to other networks like AIM, MSN or Yahoo. If google would implement and maintain transports we would be able to send basic IM messages across protocols simply by specifying persons screen name and network.

    So yeah, it could be done with current technology. Still, it wouldn’t be as open as email considering the immense popularity of the proprietary networks.

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  8. ikaruga UNITED STATES Mozilla SeaMonkey SuSE Linux says:

    The death of the desktop email client? Say it ain’t so. Alas that’s where we seem to be going unless both google and yahoo introduce IMAP that actually works. (Yahoo doesn’t even have that option.) The problem for me as Luke is that I’m always on multiple computers. I check my email at work and then at home and then when I go away. And unless I forget to sync my computers, I end up with lost emails. It’s easier to just fire up the ol’ web browser…

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  9. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    SeaMonkey! I love how Mozilla browsers have evolved to this whole family of friendly animals. Ice Weasel, Ice Ape, Fire Fox, Sun Bird, Thunder Bird, Sea Monkey etc… ;)

    Anyway, I’m the same way. I’m torn between 3 machines, and syncing up doesn’t work that well for me. Webmail just works.

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  10. ikaruga UNITED STATES Mozilla SeaMonkey SuSE Linux says:

    Yarrr! Unfortunately, Firefox that started out because Mozilla was too bloated, is now too bloated and doesn’t run on my system…so I have to go back to Mozilla, now named the Sea Monkey… Irony of ironies

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  11. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Some people swear by kazehakase. It’s gecko, and it’s fairly basic and stripped down.

    But yeah, there is no such thing as a fast lightweight, full featured browser anymore.

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  12. ikaruga UNITED STATES Konqueror Linux says:

    Yeah I tried that thing but as far as I could tell, it used more memory than FireFox and it crashed all the time. There’s another one out there, Milo, or something like that but I couldn’t get that to compile. SeaMonkey on the other hand is stable and lightweight enough with enough features to make it worthwhile for me.

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  13. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Btw, is Sea Monkey the actual Mozilla suite, or is it Firefox with integrated Thunderbird and Sunbird?

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