Monday, November 15, 2010

Don't mess with my email!

So Facebook is going to revolutionize electronic communication? Again? The New York Times quotes Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as saying that, in The Times's words, e-mail was too formal, too slow and too cumbersome, especially for young people who had grown up communicating using online chat and text messaging systems.

Too formal?  Have you seen some of the email that ends up on various lists?  Even such staid groups as children's writers, cross-stitchers and cat lovers have email lists liberally peppered with obscenity, vitriol,  innuendo and just plain bad writing. The philosophical conundrum of the age is whether the anonymity of email causes all the mild-mannered Doctors Jekyll on the internet to post like Mr. Hyde.  Formality is not one's first impression.

Perhaps Mr. Zuckerberg is referring to the fact that e-mail encourages you to use actual words and sentences.  Granted this degree of formality seems excessive, but certainly not all e-mailers feel bound by these shackles. I personally receive many e-mails written in reckless disregard for convention or grammar (though admittedly a large percentage of these are proposing sexual hook-ups or various aids for same.)

Too cumbersome, especially for young people?  Evidently, Mr. Zuckerberg does not have parents, and has never seen any.  Young people do not find email cumbersome at all.  They can do it in their sleep.  It's the parents (and grandparents) who barely manage to muddle through.

There may be a case for "too slow" though.  Certainly the anxiety of waiting 30 or even 45 seconds for an e-mail message to cross 11 timezones is too onerous for anyone, let alone an impatient youth.  Surely instant messaging is a necessity in today's world.  Unfortunately, Facebook's track record does not suggest that whatever Mr. Zuckerberg has in mind will be anywhere near instant.

If you ask actual people what's wrong with email, they don't cite speed and convenience as problems.  Rather, the usual complaints are about privacy, security and spam prevention.  Not exactly Facebook's strengths.  Can you imagine sending a private message to your BFF, and having your boss comment and your mother "like" it?

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