Social media

E-mail lives, but do we need it?

Social-networking tools are increasingly replacing e-mail

E-mail has long been the easiest way to communicate and store information, moving from an ad hoc tool in the late 1980s to an indispensable information pathway. Desktop office automation tools for word processing, calendars and e-mail became embedded in the business and military environments, and employees expected them to be available at all times.

But now, collaboration is king, and the Internet is the pathway. Web 2.0 tools and cloud computing, which are supplanting e-mail in many cases, will become embedded just as e-mail did before, and employees will expect them to be available.

Does this mean that e-mail is dead? Not quite yet. It means that the use of e-mail has peaked and Web 2.0 and emerging media tools are gradually becoming the predominant communication tools. This is no different than the rise and fall of other tools, such as the newspaper, Morse code, telegraph, typewriter, and broadcast television. These technologies are used today, but not to the degree that they were used in the past.

E-mail is one tool in the messaging and communication toolbox that is rapidly becoming a faithful hammer. The evolving e-messaging environment includes tools such as e-mail, Short Message Service, chat, instant messenger, voice mail, and voice over IP, to name a few. Added to e-messaging are new Web 2.0 tools such as wikis, blogs, RSS feeds and social-media sites that allow for integration of documents and multimedia feeds to enhance content. The government requires proper security and privacy to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the e-messaging content.

Why has e-mail peaked? Frankly, we baby boomers are no longer the majority of the workforce. We number about 75 million and face about 80 million millennials. As these talented young individuals enter the workforce in increasing numbers, they will use tools they are accustomed to. Today, millennials — and others who are willing! — can post information on the Internet for friends and colleagues to see, or they can send a text message to communicate. Opening e-mail messages is so last century.

We are seeing a blossoming of social-media sites that are organized to share information and collaborate. For example, wikis allow authorized users to edit the same document in one location. When e-mail is used to edit documents, version control and aggregation of multiple comments are much more time-consuming and cumbersome. E-mail stores and forwards information to specific users, who in turn can reply or forward the same or updated information to others. Web 2.0 tools open a dialogue in a single location where anyone who has authorized access can contribute to the conversation and content. That allows for more subject-matter experts to participate, more informed opinions and facts to be presented, and more collaborative decision-making. Consequently, the playing field is leveled. Autocratic media is replaced with democratic dialogue, making information more transparent to the community of interest.

E-mail will be here for a while longer. It’s our dependence on it to communicate that won’t be.

About the Authors

Brian Burns is the Department of the Navy's deputy chief information officer for emerging technology.

Mr. Robert J. Carey serves as the Department of Defense Principal Deputy Chief Information Officer. Selected to this position in October 2010, his main focus is to help lead the consolidation and standardization of the Defense information technology enterprise while strengthening its cybersecurity posture and the enterprise architecture as well as align, strengthen and manage the office of the DoD Chief Information Officer to have it better serve the Department's mission and help lead the IT/Cyber workforce into the 21st century.

From November 2006 to September 2010 he served as served as the fifth Department of the Navy (DON) Chief Information Officer (CIO) where he championed transformation, enterprise services, the use of the internet, and information security. Mr. Carey joined the staff of the DON CIO in February 2000, serving as the DON CIO eBusiness Team Leader through June 2003. During this period he also served as the Director of the DON Smart Card Office from February through September 2001. Mr. Carey entered the Senior Executive Service in June 2003 as the DON Deputy Chief Information Officer and was responsible for leading the DON CIO staff in developing strategies for achieving IM/IT enterprise integration across the Navy / Marine Corps team.

Mr. Carey's Federal service began with the U.S. Army at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in October 1982 where he worked as a Test Director evaluating small arms, automatic weapons and ammunition. He began his service with the Department of the Navy in February 1985 with the Naval Sea Systems Command. He worked in the Anti-Submarine/Undersea Warfare domain where he served in a variety of engineering and program management leadership positions. Mr. Carey earned a BS in Engineering in 1982 from the University of South Carolina and a Master of Engineering Management from the George Washington University in 1995.


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