Email: Nearly five decades old and still going strong.

It seems almost unbelievable that the first e-mail was sent nearly 50 years ago. That makes e-mail older than the majority of the people who live in the United States.

But in another sense, e-mail seems timeless. That’s underscored in the results from Adobe’s latest Consumer E-Mail Survey Report, released this past month.

One of the key findings from that survey is that ~85% of the respondents see their use of e-mail increasing or staying the same over the next two years.

Even many Gen Z respondents – people in their 20s – see their use of e-mail in similar terms; ~41% of them predict that their use of e-mail at work will increase, and ~30% see the same happening in their personal e-mail use.

In the work environment, e-mail has solidified itself as the preferred method of communication for many of the activities of daily interaction. When compared against other methods of communication like phone, face-to-face interaction, instant messaging, video chat, file sharing and enterprise social networks, e-mail comes out on top in many instances:

  • Communicating status updates on a project: ~60% prefer e-mail, followed by phone (~16%)
  • Delivering feedback: ~52% prefer e-mail, followed by phone (~30%)
  • Getting a brief question answered: ~35% prefer e-mail, followed by face-to-face (~25%)

And yet … there are a number of tasks where a face-to-face conversation is more preferred as a communications method:

  • Suggesting a new approach or idea
  • Asking for help on a big project
  • Alerting your manager or boss of an important issue

But without a doubt, “quitting your job” is where more than three-fourths of respondents consider a face-to-face communication as the most appropriate method, compared to just 11% who consider e-mail to be appropriate for communicating that kind of news.

These characteristics serve to illustrate that e-mail’s big power is in its efficiency and effectiveness for facilitating more “transactional” communications. But for topics and tasks that require more social finesse – like asking for help, pitching a new idea, or discussing problems – face-to-face interaction still rules the day.

This explains e-mail’s ubiquity and its staying power. It’s quite elegant, really; tt does what it needs to do – communicating quickly and efficiency without unnecessary complications.

  • E-mail enables both send and receive to communicate on their respective timelines, without disruption.
  • It provides an archival record of communication (just ask Wikileaks).
  • It’s fully integrated into people’s work flows.

This last point helps explain why so many “alternative” communication methods fail to catch on in a major way. The next time you hear of some start-up enterprise promising to abolish the inbox, take it with a big grain of salt.

History and logic would suggest that something, someday would overtake e-mail and make it obsolete. After all, in the 50 years since e-mail has been with us, we’ve see all sorts of other communications tools lose their luster – think VCRs, FAX machines, tape decks, QR codes, and information on CD-ROM.

But e-mail may be the exception. It’s pretty amazing how something that’s changed so little over the decades is still such an integral part of our communications.

More findings from the 2017 Adobe survey are summarized here.

E-Mail Communications and the “Always On” Culture

It’s a common complaint of people in business:  E-mail is this great big blob that consumes way too much of their day. 

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And now we know just how much.  According to a recent report published by Adobe —  “E-Mail Survey 2016,” — white collar adults around the world are spending ~17% more time on e-mail activities today compared to last year.  And on the business side, the growth is even bigger.

According to the findings of this research, which included surveys of ~1,000 American and ~3,000 European white collar workers, the time spent on work e-mails on a typical day is ~4 hours, while personal e-mail communications account for an additional ~3.3 hours.

This combined total of nearly 7.5 hours means that nearly one third of the typical day is spent working with e-mail communication.

Those findings suggest that other than sleeping, people spend more time on e-mail than on any other type of activity.  How frightening is that?

[Findings among Europeans are much different, either, as this infographic illustrates.]

Contributing to the “always on” atmosphere, is the fact that smartphones have definitely become the “go-to” device for e-mail activities. Nearly 85% of the survey respondents reported that they check e-mail regularly on their smartphone, compared to around 70% who check their desktop or laptop regularly for e-mail.

In the workplace, the two devices are used approximately equally for e-mail activities, but on the personal side, smartphones have it all over other desktops and laptops.  Nearly two-thirds report that they use their smartphones regularly for e-mail, compared to fewer than 30% who use other devices.

The other attribute that e-mail affects is the speed at which e-mails engage their recipients. The nature of e-mail is that it is “intrusive” and engenders a sense of time-sensitivity.  For work e-mails that require a response, here’s how quickly those responses happen:

  • Within a few minutes: ~14%
  • Within 1 hour: ~29%
  • 1 to 2 hours: ~24%
  • Within half a day: ~16%
  • Within 1 day: ~10%
  • 1 to 2 days: ~5%
  • Longer than 2 days: ~2%

This means that two-thirds of work-related e-mails elicit a response from the recipient in two hours or sooner. But believe it or not, that’s not good enough; nearly three-fourths of the respondents expect to receive a response to their e-mail within that time period.

What this research proves is that although many people like to complain about e-mail communications taking over their lives, it’s actually become an integral part of daily life, to the degree that those same people are now conditioned to expect e-mail engagement in real-time.

In short, “always on” e-mail is now the norm. And if you don’t like that very much, there’s basically nothing you can do about it.

For more information on the results of the Adobe research, click here.

Tablet Computer Adoption: Fast and Furious

Tablets are growing faster than smartphone adoptionThe tablet computer hasn’t been around long at all.  But it’s making a huge splash in the digital arena … and giving not only laptops but also smartphones a run for their money in the bargain.

Consider these data points as reported on recently by Mark Donovan, a senior vice president at comScore, a leading Internet cyber-analytics firm:

  • Tablet adoption is happening significantly faster than what was experienced with smartphones.
  • The majority of iPad users don’t own an iPhone or some other type of smartphone.
  • Tablet “early adopters” are equally male and female – a departure from the norm which typically finds early adopters of new digital technology being primarily young men.
  • There is very high usage of tablets for shopping, watching video, and other media consumption. That’s also a departure from what was experienced with smartphones, where it took much longer for consumers to become comfortable shopping from their smartphone devices.
  • People use tablets and smartphones differently – and at different times. For example, smartphone usage peaks during the day whereas tablets are used more in the evening.

That tablets are making big gains on laptop computers is no surprise at all, considering their lighter weight, nearly effortless portability, brighter screens, and the ease of using them in environments not conducive to a keyboard-and-mouse (like in bed).

But of the trends noted above, I think the most intriguing one pertains to tablet computer usage versus smartphones – specifically, how tablets are becoming an alternative to smartphones rather than an adjunct.

Indeed, it seems as if some people aren’t making the transition from feature phones to smartphones that everyone expected; they’re opting for tablets instead. We may see the adoption rates for smartphonesbegin to flatten out as a result.

Indeed, Adobe Systems reported in May 2012 that tablet traffic is growing at a rate ten times faster than smartphone traffic.

But if you really think about it, maybe these latest developments aren’t so surprising: Many folks have long complained about the “miniaturization” of display screens that are a necessary evil of mobile phones. Now that the tablet has come along, there’s finally an effective solution to that dilemma – and the market has responded accordingly, blowing away even the most optimistic sales forecasts for tablets.