It was the winter of '07 and we were just completing the pre-test phase of "The Bedroom Project," the ethnographic study we conducted for Arbitron among 17-28 year-olds. As we were wrapping up one of the early interviews, a young lady was discussing how she communicates online. And her conclusion? "Email is for old people."
We couldn't believe our ears, but as she explained, email was used for school purposes and to communicate with employers. With her friends, it was all about MySpace, Facebook, and IMing.
And as the other 31 interviews transpired, we heard the same message again and again. Even then, social networking had taken hold, subdividing the ways in which people interact with one another. For friendships and relationships, sites like MySpace and Facebook put the "social" into "networking."
But for more official communiques, email was the required mode. And as the "Bedroomers" reminded us, when given the choice of communication tools, email had become passe.
Now a new Wall Street Journal article confirms this trend, reinforced by a follow-up CNBC feature, "The Death of Email?" In the Journal piece, they discuss how email was a quantum improvement over the quaint pace of a letter, forcing quicker responses and reactions.
But with tools like Facebook and Twitter, information is now a "constant stream" - and of course, that's part of the problem. Determining the importance of messages - from what I think of the newest Curb Your Enthusiasm to what time my conference call is with a client station - can be precarious for those who are friends, colleagues, and clients. What is essential information, what is frivolous, and do the people I interact with know the difference, and understand how best to receive my emails, wall posts, and tweets?
Of course, depending on who you are, and how you want to interact with me, different methods of communication are going to be effective for diverse targets.
So, if you've been diligently aggregating email addresses via your station "club" over the years, keep it going - especially if you target an adult audience.
But realize that the last 15 years of technology growth has flipped media usage patterns upside down. Adults may have dictated the rules of the road for past generations, but during this incredible explosion of new media and hot gadgets, young people are setting the tone and pace.
Guys like me used to get in front of college classes to tell students about how the "real world" worked. Today, we have more to learn from them than they do from us. That's a tectonic shift in and of itself.
Internally, we have discussed whether this blog - now nearing its fifth birthday - has already been leapfrogged by Twitter, Facebook, and other tools. The push/pull of communication tools makes it more challenging for all of us to keep up with the people and ideas we value, and not get taken in by time sucks.
And check your age.
Post script: Technology both giveth and taketh away. A new study by the Institute for Mobile Media Research has found that after five years of declining email usage among college students, that trend has turned around this year. Why? Mobile devices, which fit perfectly for this generation, have made it easier to send and receive email on the go. Stay tuned.