youth and email: the fear factor

Stephen Baker

Steve Rubel notes a study that teens view e-mail as old school. It's been trending that way for a while. When I interviewed college students two years ago for an article on how they use media, they were dismissive of e-mail. Not quick enough, too spammy, and--here's the one that got me--too permanent. One college senior told me that if he sent an e-mail to a romantic interest, he would struggle with each sentence, trying to make it just right. If he failed, if he wrote something stupid or laughable, she might share it with her entire mailing list. His gaffe could circulate forever. IM, by contrast, worked more like a conversation.

But e-mail is still a link for all the people who aren't their buddies or social networking pals. That is: college administrators, Apple's help desk, and ...parents. The only trouble, judging from my kids, is that many of them don't check their e-mailbox too often. So they risk missing the formal stuff: notices of cancelled courses or medical checkups. I usually send text messages to their cellphones.