In today’s e-communication era of text messaging and online social networking, e-mail has taken a hit, particularly among teens.
Recent analysis of people’s online communication habits from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the marketing research company comScore shows that many people aren’t e-mailing as much as they used to, saving time — and typing — with text messaging.
According to comScore data, the number of e-mails sent by adolescents between 12 and 17 years old dropped off 24 percent in 2010, and overall visits to web-based e-mail sites declined 6 percent.
Pew research on teens’ daily communication habits with their friends helps explain the dip.
“Overall, when you look at how many teens have ever sent an e-mail, it’s most of them, so it’s still being used,” said Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist with the Pew Internet Project. “It just isn’t used for communicating with people you’re primarily communicating with in your life, namely your friends, and it’s absolutely true that text messaging and messaging through social networks has supplanted e-mail messaging to friends.”
Teens’ taste for texting also reflects their affinity for communication efficiency. For instance, text messaging with friends is a convenient way to check in, while they might pick up the phone for an in-depth conversation or send a more formal e-mail to a teacher.
“There’s a utility in the way that teens choose to interact with each other,” Lenhart told Discovery News. “They pick the method that works best for them at the moment, and teens are just more likely than older adults to choose a wider variety of tools to use, and that’s what’s really different.”
At the same time, younger people haven’t quite mastered a cohesive e-communication etiquette, which can present challenges in the classroom and elsewhere with text messaging or social networking on the sly.
“The surveys my colleagues and I have given to students indicate that some students believe that texting during class or in any situation is fine in an emergency, while others believe it’s inappropriate,” said Barbara Rosenfeld, an assistant professor of education technology at City University of New York’s Brooklyn College. “I don’t think there is a consensus on etiquette for e-communications at this time.”
While the media tend to paint teens and younger adults as text messaging addicts, Rosenfeld also noted that her students still appreciate good, old-fashioned handwriting.
Rather than mourning the (albeit slight) decline of e-mail and longer-form writing in favor of abbreviated texts, Rosenfeld sees text messaging as a useful part of a communication spectrum that has evolved alongside new technology.
“As long as people realize that there are different ways of communicating dependent on particular situations, I think it is great to text and chat,” Rosenfeld said. “We often use informal language in speaking to friends and more formal language in school, when interviewing for a job, or perhaps when speaking with a superior.”
And although data indicate that e-mailing is down, it’s certainly not down for the count.
The comScore report noted that while people aren’t visiting e-mail sites as frequently, e-mailing is still one of “the most popular activities on the web” that more than 70 percent of wired Americans engage in each month.
For younger generations and their fast-texting thumbs, e-mail probably won’t disappear by the time they become adults, either.
“We had these questions about instant messaging a long time ago, maybe six years ago when teens were IMing madly, more than they were e-mailing, and we wondered whether IM will be the way we’ll talk in the business world,” Lenhart said. “I think for some people, sure, it’s another way of communicating in their daily business adult lives but e-mail is still there, and it’s not going away.”
Photo: Paul Edmondson/Corbis