Earlier this week, Nielsen Co. released a report revealing how Americans spend their time online has changed dramatically over the past 12 months. As people spend more time on social networking sites such as Facebook, time spent e-mailing was down 28 percent and instant messaging dropped 15 percent.
This news has industry executives speculating how the trend could affect how teenagers who have grown up texting and using social networking sites will communicate with each other in the future.
Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said last month during a conference that "e-mail is probably going away." Although this claim received some backlash online, there is indeed evidence that some consumers are finding alternative ways to stay in touch with their friends.
"E-mail isn't necessarily going to go away all together, especially since some of us still write letters once in awhile," said John Barrett, the director of research for market research firm Parks Associated, which specializes in consumer technology trends.
"Even though communication habits change, they all have their proper use and give us options to choose from. We are, however, seeing a large shift toward communicating through Facebook and less with e-mail."
Teenagers today consider e-mail to be a "grown-up medium," and not ideal for day-to-day communication with their peers, according to a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and the University of Michigan.
It's no secret that teens love to text. In fact, half send 50 or more text messages a day — or 1,500 texts a month — and one in three send more than 100 texts a day, or more than 3,000 texts a month, the study found, which involved a national survey of 800 teens and nine focus groups in four U.S. cities. But as these quick and casual messages dominate how they communicate, e-mail has taken a back seat — with teens citing the platform as a "formal" and "grown-up" way to be in touch with adults.
Only 11% of teens use e-mail to communicate with friends each day, according to the Pew report. "E-mail doesn't support real-time, flexible contact with others," Scott Campbell, co-author of the Pew report, told TechNewsDaily. "You have to log in and also be online. Teens carry their phones with them anywhere and they can text their friends without stopping everything to respond. Teens do e-mail, but not as much as they communicate in other ways."
Campbell, who is an assistant professor of communication studies at University of Michigan, believes that once teens go to college and begin networking and job searching, e-mail will become a more important way for them to communicate.
"Many teens consider e-mail to be a more adult way of communicating," he continued. "They aren't in the stage of their lives when e-mail serves a real purpose of staying in touch with people."
Texting will continue to play a heavy role in their lives until their mid-20s, Campbell said. As they begin to settle down "and start new families of their own, they will rely less on their peers for a constant stream of communication through texts," he said. "They won't grow out of texting, but they will likely grow out of sending an enormous amount of them each day."
Barrett agrees: "It will be interesting to see if teens start utilizing their personal e-mail addresses more once they graduate from college and begin frequently using their work accounts," he said. "There could be a small shift in professional communication as the younger demographic takes over, but you won't see corporate executives using social networking as their main way of communicating."
E-mail is not the only medium that has taken a hit from the expansion of text messaging and social networking.
"Teenagers are now overlooking the landline phone," Campbell said. "Texting or going on Facebook via mobile devices allows teens to stay in touch with their friends anytime, anywhere. Landline phones confine teens to a certain space, and this is inconvenient for them."
Teens also enjoy manipulating language and abbreviating words through texts and Facebook posts.
"This is a way for them to express themselves and be creative," Campbell said. "Since they believe e-mail is a more formal platform, it doesn't meet their needs right now. However, this could change as they get older."