Email Lists: The Next Victim of Web 2.0?

After reading this article in the Chronicle of Higher Learning, I started to think about the usefulness of email lists as new types of social media gain in popularity. My immediate reaction is that email lists have a moldy, musty smell to them and are beginning to resemble the old bulletin boards at the end of the 1200 baud dial-up modem from yesteryear. I love new technologies and new ways of connecting. I also enjoy being able to participate from a variety of portals, including my desktop, a community computer, my phone, and my laptop. Looking at email lists right now is a bit like watching Grandma driving her 1973 Plymouth sedan at 45 mph in the fast lane.

Like some people in the article, I have dropped off of some of the lists. I foolishly felt obligated to read the emails. What if there was a real gem hidden in one? I finally understood that deleting without reading doesn’t work well for me, so I unsubscribed. In reality many of the lists had degenerated into whining (why can’t I find a job? why did you misunderstand me? why won’t anyone pay attention to my special cause?) or concert/event/recital/job postings. I remain on one list, mostly for professional reasons, but I have been sorely tempted over the last year to unsubscribe to it, too. I have become very uncomfortable with the attitudes expressed there and have also been discouraged, disheartened, and dismayed. I feel like the email list has become the place where the old guard pitches its greatest battles to save the castle. Meanwhile, I suspect the hipper and cooler people are probably hanging out by the pool at the condo complex down the road (i.e. on Facebook, blogging, Twittering, etc.). So I want to mix up my metaphors and jump ship.

And then I realize the world probably needs places for all types of discussions in all kinds of manners. While the old guard infuriates me, at least I have the opportunity to read and contemplate their opinions and views. The intellectual challenges presented through opposing opinions are beneficial to all of us, as is open discussion.

Some users of email lists are often unwilling or unable to keep pace with the rapidly changing technologies. I’m glad they still have a place to go (for now, at least) to participate in the discussions. I suspect there will be enough of them to keep email lists alive for quite some time. The downside is that their arena of ideas may become very narrow and isolated. That will be sad.

One current downside of blogging and social networking approach to discussion is that the tools for finding, consolidating, and filtering is still in its infancy in my opinion. It’s only a matter of time (days? weeks?) before that changes, too.


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