Email is for yesterday, today, and tomorrow

You can yak all the time on Slack, Teams, or Google Chat — or get real work done with email.

incoming emails / DNS security / locked server / parked domain
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People are still telling me that email is obsolete, that it can be replaced by Slack, Teams, or Google Chat. Some folks swear they can do more over instant messaging.  Or, even better, some proclaim (with an odd glare in their eyes from their webcam ring light), Zoom, Google Hangouts Meet, or BlueJean Meetings are the future.

Please. Enough already. We were using email in the 1970s, and we'll still be using it in the 2070s.

Email's enemies claim it's a waste of time and energy, that it sucks the life out of their day with countless messages morning, noon, and night. That it's always interrupting them. Oh, hold that thought. I just heard another important "ding!" from Slack. I'll get back to you after I’m done looking at…(glances at Slack to see a new photo of my friend Esther's cat Shaka on a forbidden desk)…, uhm, what were we deciding?

Seriously — Slack, Chanty, Flock, you name it — all instant message (IM) groupware programs have one thing in common: they're constantly interrupting you.

Guess what? This kind of program has been popping up on screens with "Pay attention to me!" messages for decades. Some of the first programs I used were IMs. I started with "talk" on BSD Unix systems in the 1970s. Then I graduated to Slack's ancient predecessor, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) in the late 1980s. I'm still using it. For that matter, if Time-Warner had open-sourced AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), I'd probably still be using it today, too.

One of the great mysteries of tech life today is why everyone thinks Slack is the greatest thing since sliced bread. There have been business-class IM programs for forever and a day; it's just a copy of a copy of a copy.

Actually, Slack and the current generation of IM systems all share a common problem. They've actually taken a step backward. It used to be that companies used IM Internet standards such as Session Initiation Protocol/SIP Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIP/SIMPLE) and Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) to create an IM lingua franca such as the Jabber IM family.

Thanks to those standards, you could use universal IM clients such as Pidgin to talk to your co-workers and partners no matter what IM system they were on. Today, I have no choice but to have Slack, IRC, Teams, and Google Chat all up and running at once.

IM systems (and certainly over the past year, videoconferencing apps) are annoying. Sure, sometimes they come in handy. Sometimes, you want to see your friends' faces. But staring at each other all the time while trying to solve a business problem or reach a decision?

It’s not natural.

Now, consider email. Unless you’ve got a demanding boss who expects you respond to a message right this second, you can ignore email until you're ready to deal with it. And, when you are ready to respond, you can take your time. You can make sure you use just the right words. You can even spell and grammar check your missive before you hit send.

Email is also universal. It didn't used to be. When I started as an email administrator, I had to fight on the side of yourname@example.com in the great RFC-822 vs. X.400 email address format wars. Those battles are long over and everyone knows now how to send an email and be sure it will reach its destination.

You also don't have to worry about a multitude of other questions: What time zone is Joe in? Does the CEO really want my message popping up in front of her nose? Did I just IM my supervisor that I need to go to the warehouse or the whorehouse? (A friend of mine actually made that last spectacular blunder. It did not go over well.)

There will always be a place for IM, and Slack, and Zoom and others, but email is not going away. If you need fast-and-dirty messaging to get your point across in a hurry, by all means, carry on. But for real work and thought, email was then, is now, and always will be the best way to go.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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