But my big question is whether Zuckerberg is right when he supposes that young people are likely to permanently adapt to alternatives to traditional email. While it’s true that kids are developing some new habits that will last a lifetime, it has always been the case that some teen habits change as they get older, especially as they enter the work force.Fact is, many businesses run on email today and though things will change over time, I don’t see instant messaging, text messaging, Facebook messaging or any other technology threatening email anytime soon.
Sigh. Does this count as a Pyrrhic victory? I mean, I shook my head in bemusement when I read the press accompanying Zuckerberg’s announcement and saw him claiming that high-school kids make him feel old when they tell him that they don’t use email anymore because it’s too slow. Well, fuck those little ADHD bastards anyway. I hope it turns out that their goddamned phones are slowly giving them all thumb cancer too! But if the best people can offer up in email’s defense is that it’s more efficient for business, well, talk about damning with faint praise. Doesn’t anyone use it for actual letters anymore? For, dare I say, the art of writing? As a labor of love?
Which brings me to this excellent essay by Bill Morris:
This doesn’t mean Estleman and I are Luddites or cheesy romantics. It’s both simpler and more complicated than that. It means we don’t believe that faster is necessarily better, and we’re distrustful of a bill of goods that our gadget-drunk culture has swallowed whole, the illusion that technology has some magical power to improve our lives. Estleman and I are essentially conservative animals who distrust the notion, so prevalent today, that all things can be improved with the right technology, the right information, the right management, the right laws. While mankind strives to improve itself to death, some of us want no part of it.…One could argue that writing is writing – it’s all communication – whether it’s scratches on a cave wall, glyphs in stone, ink on papyrus, pencil on paper, typed characters on bond stationery, or digits in the ether. I disagree. In writing and reading, no less than in art, the medium of creation and consumption is critical to a work’s effect. That’s not to say that writing longhand is better than writing on a typewriter, or that writing on a typewriter is better than writing on a laptop; rather, it’s to say that each of these acts is different from the others and will yield different types of prose.…Similarly, tapping out an e-mail and hitting the Send key (or texting with your opposable thumbs) produces a different effect from composing a letter, revising it, putting it in an envelope and mailing it to someone. And opening that envelope and reading that letter is a different experience from reading an e-mail or a text message. It simply is. It’s more tactile, more suspenseful, more personal – and more likely leave a lasting impression. When writing an e-mail, I find I write much faster and with less thought and feeling than when I write a letter.
Preach it, my brutha. Of course, I disagree that email is an inferior medium for writing letters, as I’ve already said in detail. One point I will keep hammering on until everyone cries, begs and pleads for me to give it a rest already, though, is that the gadgets themselves are not causing us to be more hurried and careless in our correspondence; they’re just symptoms of our work-obsessive culture that recycles every second of free time into an opportunity to get more work done. You can draw the line almost anywhere you choose. He and his friend stick to typewriters and envelopes; I happily use email and hyperlinks but refuse to have anything to do with social networking sites. I’m sure there are some who would argue that even those can be used intelligently, but even so, that’s just a bridge too far for me. Doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that people find a way to set aside the time and energy – assuming they have the desire – to make communication with their friends and loved ones something worth reading. Technology makes it easier for people to be lazy, true, but maybe the fact that we’re so eager to blame gadgetry for cheapening our relationships is indicative of a refusal to consider something more unsettling — maybe a number of our friends just don’t care enough to make us a priority, and vice versa.