BBC News reports that a recently published Microsoft study found that more than 97% of email sent is spam. Seeing this, I can’t help but feel that email is becoming a victim of it’s own success. With a signal to noise ratio like this, one as to wonder how long it can be before email becomes ignored as a mainstream communications channel?
All technologies seem to follow a predictable life story. In stage one, a technology is invented to solve a particular problem. Miners need a way to drain their mines, so steam engines were put to task. If that technology is sufficiently efficient, catches the zeitgeist, and benefits from any other number of factors, it may find itself lucky enough to progress to stage two.
Stage two sees the technology being used outside of it’s original niche. As steam engines became more refined, efficient, and miniturised, we begin to see them in other applications. If a technology can be replicated across multiple applications, then it’s a short hop to stage three.
Stage three is mainstream acceptance. Almost everyone knows about or uses the technology, either directly or indirectly. At their height steam engines were the engines of industry, running factories, running transport from railways to steam ships, and a multitude of other applications.
Stage four sees the technology begin to wane. The success of the technology has made its mark on society. For better or worse, society has changed and new expectations and attitudes emerge. Steam ships made international trade easier, coupled with the increasing affluence of a post industrial revolution population, a growth in international trade demanded more and more efficient ships. Technology rose to the new challenges, but steam could only be so efficient. Newer technologies such as diesel engines came to supplant steam in many of its applications.
Finally we arrive at stage five. Technologies never really die, but the niches they survive on can dwindle to the point of relative obsurity. Nowadays, steam engines are no longer in mainstream use. Very few of us are aware of steam engines on a daily basis. Though one can argue that many coal, oil, peat, and nuclear electricity generators, are steam engines of a kind. Otherwise, steam seems to be relegated to hobbyists, collectors and historians.
Where on this curve do we find email?
One could argue for late stage three or early stage four. Email has been mainstream for a while, but with the advent of Twitter, and social networking, one can begin to see a trend away from email as a major pillar of communication on the Internet. Coupled with the low signal to noise ratio, I think it’s only a matter of time before email becomes relegated from mainstream communication.
What will emerge to take its place remains to be seen.