It was not long ago that email ruled the world. A technology invented in 1960s, in my opinion, reigned until the 2010s. Companies made (still are) billions from selling software working on an ancient and proprietary protocols. The idea was quite simple, benefits like cost-effectiveness and delivery speed – undisputable. Obviously it took over the world. It proliferated under MSN/Hotmail, MS Exchange, Yahoo and later Google. My first email was a Yahoo one, created by my father on his work computer. At that point I was a 7 year old kid, who enjoyed using the spray tool on Paint more than anything. I didn’t understand how the world worked back then, so I didn’t understand what he did for me. Things obviously changed, as I got interested in computers and started doing HTML and JavaScript 2 years later. Then moved to Pascal and C using Borland’s DOS IDEs a year later. Enough on this side note. I got my first Gmail account when it was still invite-only, and it felt pretty special. Google still had the cool kid on the block halo and pretty much every account name was free. Compared to now, which often makes me think, in the future finding a non-idiotic username will be a some sort of an informal IQ Test. Maybe we’ll be reselling them like domain names today. However, with the Facebook and Google sign-in feature, the future of this problem has become clearer. Let’s just hope “The Circle” (by Dave Eggers) is actually the warning, not the manual.

Businesses started to use it heavily to correspond with clients. With popularity came the heavy price – Spam. Nigerian princes offering fortunes and plenty of soap opera plots. The ratio of signal to noise dropped significantly, and suddenly the best email providers became the ones that offer the best spam filters, where Google excelled and made Gmail an informal monopoly. Labels, folders, machine learning kicked in to organize the pile of emails. The race was to reinvent the email. Google tried “Waze”, which people found too complicated and was later scraped. Then Google tried again with Inbox, which is somewhat half-way successful. Even Facebook joined on the email bandwagon, as the cost to entry became almost nothing. Microsoft rebranded Hotmail to Outlook, Yahoo fell of the radar. Plenty of events of the space.

Cutting the long story short, Edward Snowden happened and privacy came to focus. Suddenly all your data was property of big data companies. The number of government requests to read people’s correspondence were at an all-time high. Privacy-focused email providers like Lavabit and GMX rose in popularity for a short period of time. Some were shut down, then reborn, nonetheless. Email outside of corporate guarded Exchange servers, was somewhat tainted.

Fast forward to Mid 2017, an image of someone’s phone email app with 2000+ unread emails is the most average thing you’ll see. The only place you use email at is at work. People are still dreading receiving an email on the weekend, as it’s almost with 99% certainty work-related and that’s never a good sign. Also nothing kills a Monday morning, like reading a long email thread that’s taken place over the weekend on a critical issue.

You may ask why I chose 2010 of the point that I think email was overtaken? I believe at that point, the amount of notifications I had on my android phone at the time was filling the entire status bar and bear in mind that’s without the amount of social networks we have today Linkedin, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram & a million others nowaydas I’m too tired to keep up with. A sanity check would be: 7 years ago if someone asked can you imagine the world without email. Everyone will be, No, we’ll have to use carrier pigeons or pay billions to UPS, FedEx and DHL. However, ask this question today and you’ll get a reply from some businesses of “I contact my clients only over facebook, twitter, <insert any social network or text messaging app>” due to the personal approach and customer service or more of a “Are you on Whatsapp, Messenger or Viber?”. It is a given, some will migrate slower than others but it’s finally happening. The new information overflow is notifications, not email anymore. The personal email has become this empty vessel, that’s mostly used to send stuff to someone to print for you and a log of Amazon orders. Just when we got the ability to Undo emails, we now want to delete unseen text messages.

You might say, you are not technically right, you still have 2000 emails and receive notifications for all of them, so this is just building up on the problem, not fixing it. You will be absolutely right. However your personal email is no longer the main source of information overload. Those 2000+ unread emails are there, as they don’t matter anymore and remain unread. They are not as critical to your day-to-day as they used to be. Notifications from text messaging apps like Whatsapp, Facebook’s Messenger, Viber, <insert latest entrant here> are the new source of quality information overload. So email has started to become a business-only tool for some time now. Over the past year I’ve used it more as a username to login to an app than to give it to someone to write me an email. The main culprit is obviously the reach of internet access today and the low cost of a smartphone.

Your current phone’s notifications log, is what your email inbox used to be. Today, if I order a pizza, I get a notification to go and pick it up, not an email or a phone call.
Your online groceries, notification for delivery, concert ticket sale of a favorite artist in your city, notification to prepare that credit card ready.
As we get used to this quick and easy bits of information that we keep a log as long as we don’t press “Clear All Notification”, I start to understand a little bit what helped Snapchat become a thing. Notifications are your new overlord.

The solution? I don’t have one. The obvious choice is reduce the apps that can send you notifications, but how many people have the fear of missing out an amazing saving offer or a conert ticket sale. Others like the hit of dopamine, when they get a notification and makes them feel popular (Video by Simon Sinek). I for one ironically have solved this issue for myself by buying a smartwatch and reducing notifications from apps, so now I know that if my watch doesn’t vibrate, there’s no point to check my phone. Even if I check a notification a quick glance and then I can ignore it. Is it ideal? Hardly, but it’s good enough for me at the moment. On a joking side, the optimal solution is probably to turn the internet off, but then again you’ll probably get a notification that there are available Wi-Fi networks in your area to join, so the only option is to turn the phone off.

In conclusion, I do expect that many might disagree with me and that’s perfectly fine. I’d iterate that email is still alive and kicking and will still be for quite some time, however the overflow of information that used to come from emails is now coming from notifications. To my current knowledge I can say – we have finally found the technology that killed the email – the push notification.

Ivaylo Pavlov

I blog about interesting tech, programming and finance in real life.


Dale · 18/07/2017 at 3:27 pm

Interesting post – I think you’re right in that ‘traditional’ email is dead but ‘smart’ email is something we could certainly do with more of. Ie better classification of MSGs into what you usually read and important things like bills vs market material.

The thing is – notifications and things like twitter don’t give you context – they have no substance and hence I will employ a bot to deal with notifications. My email though? its practically your online identity – its where someone can reach you to give you the full context behind something and where you can – in your own peaceful time – respond in full should you choose 🙂

    Ivaylo · 18/07/2017 at 6:31 pm

    Happy to see another returning reader 🙂 I agree with you, the ability to reply at your own pace, rather than worry if a text is seen and why someone hasn’t replied yet is why I prefer emails for work. Personally, I don’t have any meaningful information in my personal email and my online identity is definitely the social media accounts, as they are public, my emails private (One would hope :)) But I can see your point, but the context would be in the app. See you at work Dale!

Stoyan · 18/07/2017 at 5:20 am

I must be getting old, because I love email and hate push notifications. Both can be overwhelming, but with emails at least I can read them when I want to, not when I glance at my phone all the time.

I’ve personally disabled most notifications on my phone, whilst I use email filters to skip the inbox and get most email items categorized in sub-folders.

    Ivaylo · 18/07/2017 at 6:33 am

    I hear you buddy, let’s wait and see when we’ll get the equivalent of labels or spam filters for notifications.

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