In an excellent 2004 essay titled, “Ten Technologies That Refuse to Die,” author Eric Scigliano makes observations on once breakthrough technologies, now technically obsolete, that are still alive. Even while being overcome with far better, more reliable, more useful offerings, these technologies march on like so many zombies in a late-night horror film. They are undead.
Technology Zombies like Facsimile/Fax (invented in 1843 by Alexander Bain, a Scottish mechanic), Fortran and vacuum tubes, all clearly have been supplanted by far better technologies. Yet they continue to exist, and some flourish (like the fax machine). The reason is they find a niche where they continue to add value. It is an intriguing aberration in the adoption and diffusion of innovations.
Email needs to be added author’s Scigliano list. Supplanted long ago by far superior technologies, email continues to prosper. Even though in an obsolescence cycle foretold by the spam banshee (some research show >90% of all email is now spam) and far better collaborative technology, email continues to be the top mission-critical application of the firm. Just ask any CIO.
How a fragile, unreliable, totally insecure datagram service, based on a 19th Century concept (the postage stamp was invented in 1891), has become so widespread and critical is amazing.
Of course the underlying social purpose of email, interactions, and of late, transactions, is why it creates so much incredible value. Email is among the most important of the social media and enterprise applications.
There are far better ways to conduct these interactions. People will always go for the solution that requires the least energy. That is human nature. We are extremely social and highly parsimonious with personal energy. However, we are also known for not always doing what is ‘best.’ That is why many new and better collaborative technologies fail and email continues to grow in importance.
Anyway, the tipping point for email’s demise, like Mark Twain’s death, is greatly exaggerated. Like the “Ten Technologies That Refuse to Die,” email prospers with the undead. Like the paradox every horror film aficionado knows, we can’t kill the email zombie, it’s already dead.