The patterns of email usage are changing, recent research suggests, influenced by rising use of social media and instant messaging.
Perhaps because I grew up fooling around with ham radio and knowing some Morse code, I've always had a thing for sending messages electronically across long distances -- even by email, though that medium has none of the romance of shortwave radio.
Indeed, I'll never forget my first encounter with email, in the early 1980s, using a service called MCI Mail. It offered not only direct PC-to-PC communications but also delivery of printed emails via the US post office. At first, anyway, MCI Mail worked only between subscribers of that service. Soon, though, I joined The WELL, an early online community, and got my first taste of exchanging mail across the wild and wooly, wholly decentralized Internet.
Today, I still like to write emails to friends and family, often at length, as I might have scrawled or typed on good paper years ago. Amidst all the computer-generated text and graphics swirling about the Web, it's pleasing, somehow, to engage in truly personal communications. Granted, email is rarely as personal as a handwritten letter and it's not quite as instantaneous as conversing with someone in person or by phone. It falls somewhere in between those two, offering a mixture of both, which has its pluses and its minuses.
Thus it was with mixed feelings that I reacted to a recent report about email usage from the Radicati Group, a Palo Alto research outfit specializing in messaging. This company has determined that the worldwide volume of emails is due to rise by around 8 percent each year from now through 2016 -- from 144.8 billion to 192.2 billion messages per day, that is.
That's more than 20 messages per person per day, even though many people still have no access to email. But that's changing, too. The world's total number of email accounts is on the rise, from 3.4 billion accounts this year to 4.4 billion by 2016, according to Radicati Group.
More mailboxes, more mail. So far, so good. The not-so-pleasing news is that the number of business email accounts will grow slightly faster than consumer accounts. And worse, if you are a believer in email as a more or less personal communications medium: the number of business emails sent every day is going to grow by 13 percent a year through 2016 while consumer email volume will actually fall.
This year, consumers are sending an estimated 55.8 billion emails a day, but by 2016, that number will have dropped to a measly 48.4 billion a day. Over the same period of time, business email volume will rise from 89 billion to 144 billion messages per day.
Why the decline in personal emailing? Radicati Group points to two factors, namely the growing popularity of social networking sites and that of instant messaging. The former, the company reckons, will grow from 2.7 billion accounts this year to 4.3 billion by the end of 2016. Worldwide IM accounts, meanwhile, will grow in number from 2.7 billion to 3.4 billion over the same span.
The silver lining in this cloud (so to speak)? To my mind, it's simply that people show no sign of not wanting to connect and communicate with each other, even if their chosen media call for quick, 140-character jots of shorthand instead of yesteryear's pages of well-wrought prose. Quantity, not quality, seems to be the way so much of the world is going these days.
Your thoughts on the future of email?