Defrag Blog

Is the “email era” over?

by Eric Norlin on Oct.12, 2009, under Uncategorized

The Wall Street Journal has a piece this morning titled, “The End of the Email Era.” The piece isn’t anything new for Defrag attendees, though I do think it’s another important “marker” in where we are on the overlay. The questions it raises, however, are spot on for what we’re all about at Defrag.

To review:

1. Let’s spend some time thinking about the metaphor that is “email.” After all, metaphors limit what we can actually *do* with things. Email is a simple, but powerful metaphor: I send you “mail”; you send me “mail” back. It’s so easy Grandma can do it!

[sidenote: I had a really interesting exchange last week about whether there was a center of "pragmatist gravity" at Defrag. I, of course, argued "yes" - but that it came from a very different place. Defrag's pragmatism begins at the most strategic of strategic places - metaphors - and then works its way down into practice (good ole "praxis"). The result, I think, is unique.]

2. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we’re already building metaphors around the “new communication systems” — web of flow, real-time stream, push-button web, synaptic web, etc. It’s all largely a sign of how early we are in this cycle, as no term seems to immediately “click,” which is just an indication of the fact that the underlying metaphor is still being formed.

3. Innovation is occurring. Google’s Wave is the obvious example, but the more “developed” examples include every thing from Gist to Socialcast, and folks like Brad are pretty actively seeking out how to use “personal dashboards” to sort all of this.

All of which brings us back out to the “big issue” — email has been the “messaging bus” for people’s communication lives. We’re now exploring different messaging systems (synchronous, asynchronous, etc), but they are NOT JUST messaging systems. They’re how we organize, process, filter and collaborate around tons of data. This “email era” questions spans a spectrum of interactions - from 1 to 1 communication to teams of 50 (or up) working collaboratively around projects, and back down to individuals that are looking for appropriate dashboards.

The big issue isn’t one of “dead or alive” for an era. Sure, we may be moving past the “email era,” but I don’t believe that we’re moving into a new dominant era yet. There is no solidifying metaphor.

So, in the meantime, we’ll be in this liminal state - halfway between and struggling through option after option and partially formed metaphor after partially formed metaphor. It won’t be wholly satisfying, but it will be what we have to dig our way through — until someday, someone says something resembling, “you know what this is like? it’s like when I mail you a letter…”

You can’t sort this stuff out in solitude, and the further you can get away from the echo chamber, the better off you’ll be. Be sure to join us a Defrag.

P.S. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that we’ve got specific sessions at Defrag lined up to address precisely this issue.

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