In the 70s and early 80s when I was a great email evangelist and a half-assed email application coder and a not too bad email systems admin, there were no cell phones (1983 was the first commercial cell), there were no truly mobile computers (Osbourne 1 in 1981 and Kaypro in 1982), telephone answering machine were still mostly tape decks. There were some video text projects; none really succeeded.
Now wonder email looked so fantastic!
And as a utopian popularizer, I was happy to predict that email would change everything in communications. It did and for a while was quite wonderful and even freeing and at least it enhanced productivity and even built relationships.
I was reminded of this separately by two folks who organized talks around the UNC campus to promote email, Libby Evans and Byron Howes. But as we reminisced about those heady times, I could only think of what a complete mess email has become. All that we had said email would do is better done by apps — and email never adapted to a truly mobile world.
One look at Blackberry users and their construction of use says so much to this. A special purpose device that just does constantly trickling email has had a phone stuck on it in an ungainly way, a web browser plunked on a too small of a screen for the target users, etc. It’s an email reader made worse.
Phones went through the same identity crisis — save Apple’s iPhone which has always been less phone that computer with phone back up.
Now the market is settling down on multipurpose, location aware, multimedia producing and receiving devices. And email looks even more clunky, more like a communications oddity than a solution. More like a 50s console stereo system than a 70s component or like a digital system that you carry with you and stuck in anywhere. It cannot be dressed up and taken out.
As much as I loved being a part of email’s development, evolution, adaption and acceptance, I’ve been wondering when and where to stop the madness. Not to check out as a Luddite might, nor to take an email vacation, nor to declare bankruptcy, nor to just hand it over to a secretary to do for me, but to really commit myself to seeing if the nacent concepts of activity streams, of open social, of hyper-intergration, of emerging and sinking social communications apps can do the jobs given to email and do those jobs better.
That’s the #noemail project and it begins at midnight tonight.