Sunday, July 8, 2012

Telephones and e-mail - is the end at hand?

AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by kristiewells
The two most important means of communication for those of us over 30 are showing signs of serious fatigue. Most of us still rely on phone calls and e-mail for the vast majority of our business and personal communication but two new articles in the New York Times indicate that this domination is under threat.

Let's take e-mail first. According to an article by Nick Bilton called Disruptions: Life’s Too Short for So Much E-Mail, 107 trillion e-mails were sent last year from 3.1 billion active accounts. This boils down to the average business user getting an average of 105 e-mails every day. Most of this deluge is unnecessary and could be avoided if people learned a few simple rules like thinking several times before hitting the "reply all" button and not sending so many copies to people who probably don't need to know at all. However the constant flow is hard to regulate since even if you diligently reply quickly to every mail that action simply prompts just as many answers.

"Last year, I decided to try to reach In-box Zero, the Zen-like state of a consistently empty in-box. I spent countless hours one evening replying to neglected messages. I woke up the next morning to find that most of my replies had received replies, and so, once again, my in-box was brimming. It all felt like one big practical joke."

The fact that the vast majority of e-mail in the world is spam does not make the situation easier. Maybe e-mail is simply nearing the end of the line and is suffocating under its own weight. Many under the age of 25 use e-mail very sparingly, preferring to communicate by social media where you have greater control over who can reach you and where communication is usually short and to the point. Most over 25 belong to the e-mail generation and are trapped in it for the time being but we can see new communication models forming.

Good old telephony does seems to be on the retreat already. Again the younger generation clearly prefer texting to phoning and now companies are increasingly abandoning the phone for online communication with customers. Amy O'Leary writes in another NYT article, Tech Companies Leave Phone Calls Behind, about how many net-based companies are simply not on the phone at all.

"Voice calls have been falling out of fashion with teenagers and people in their 20s for some time (text only, please). But what is a matter of preference for the young is becoming a matter of policy for technology companies; phones cost money, phones do not scale."

Global companies like Google or Facebook would need large armies of call-center operators to even try to answer customer questions by telephone and it's easy to understand why they simply don't even try. It simply takes too long to talk to customers and costs too much. Many companies don't even advertise a single phone number and often make their e-mail address very difficult to find. In a global market there simply is no time to deal with the millions of phone enquiries that would stream in. Instead of trying to keep up with the deluge the big companies are switching off and referring customers to self-help sites and forums.

However as the giants become harder to talk to maybe smaller companies can use the old technology to their advantage by providing the exclusive service of voice communication. 

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