Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Online Dinosaur?

There has been some debate in the MCC International office recently about the role of email in business and in our lives in general. In some ways it represents a technology anachronism, a tool dating from the earliest days of online that has, in some cases, changed little in the last decade or so. In a world where social media, IM and online file transfers have easily superseded it in terms of flexibility and availability, the humble email is showing its age. You can’t easily tell if the recipient has read and digested your message, the file swapping size is tiny by modern standards (a couple of photos could bounce back!) and there can easily be long delays in any response (if it comes!) – it could easily have gone  the way of the Dodo long ago. In many ways it emulates its traditional offline predecessor (Snailmail anyone? - even that email-era nickname seems old now!!), sharing many of its faults - and yet it’s still clinging on! I had wondered why myself until recently, when the slightly archaic online service I still use for my personal emails (13 years and counting!!) decided to go offline - and for an undetermined period.

Business email systems are still important for many organisations. They represent an electronic version of the paper memo (for those that can remember the ‘Cc’ stands for ‘Carbon Copy’, a throwback to the days of simple paper duplicates!) Certainly this old-fashioned legacy has lost it favour amongst the upcoming generations now leaving school. Email is not ‘cool’ and for many young workers represents a very old-fashioned way of doing things. Even at my age I find emailing a bank a frustrating experience for example, IM is so much more immediate and helpful. So when I lost my email access I wasn’t immediately bothered. But then when I thought about it, the connotations were more worrying. If you use online banking, where do you get notifications? (or a password reset) If you buy something online where do they send an invoice/confirmation? If an item is faulty (in my case a TV) where does the manufacturer want to send the returns details? If you book travel or hotels, where does the confirmation go? Despite its apparent inflexibility, your email address still represents a secure point for the online community to recognise. It’s actually the closest we get to a virtual letterbox. And in the same way as if you got locked out of your home, it’s difficult to easily prove who you are or to get secure services without it.

Thankfully my dinosaur of an email service has been restored and I have access to all those Amazon receipts and old bank statements again (hooray!) – but it’s been a real eye-opener for me. As old and unsexy as the technology may seem it’s still important to us in the second decade of the 21st Century and I am very seriously thinking of registering all my online services with a more mainstream (and hopefully more reliable!) provider. But then, that’s quite a hassle in itself – much like changing your physical home address or mobile number it involves a fair amount of running around!
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