-Fact: today’s college graduates will never have listened to music on a cassette tape.

-Fact: tomorrow’s college graduates may have only watched a handful of movies on a VHS player.

-Fact: classrooms have rapidly digitized and school systems are constantly adapting to new technologies to engage students who would otherwise find education stale, outdated, and perhaps, unnecessary.

-Fact: today’s high school and college graduates are growing up with more communication options than ever before. These options include Snapchat, Viber, Trello, Periscope, and WhatsApp, while a few have fallen by the wayside like Vine and Meerkat.

This rapid experimentation and adoption of new communication modalities is awe inspiring and a bit frightening when you pause and consider what it means for marketers.

Email as a communication unifier

Change in communication styles has prompted some to issue a eulogy for email. Others have become apologists and decry the value of the 45 year old stalwart of digital communication and instead seek a world free of email because they’ve turned to highly evolved chat tools like Slack and HipChat.

Facebook recently announced Workplace; a brilliant move designed to capitalize on the fact that tomorrow’s workers will be more familiar with Facebook and Google Apps than Microsoft Office and Lotus Notes. But, if we stop for a moment and think about the one common thread, that by its nature, evolution, design, or just happenstance, unifies all of these other mediums, it’s email.

As an email professional, I’ve been kicking around the idea for quite some time that email is part of our maturation process. My theory isn’t scientific, it’s based on simple observation and a conclusion rooted in the fact that global email volume has never contracted; quite the contrary, it’s always growing.

Email as a key to our digital identity

Let’s take my nieces and nephews for example. My nephews knew how to unlock their father’s iPad at a frighteningly young age to launch their favorite games and videos. By the time these kids are old enough to have their own smartphones and tablets, they will have created email accounts, because the experiences they want to have require a basic identifier: email. And as is fashionable, practical, and quite common, they’ll have multiple accounts, two on average, but many more if they’re in the startup world. Multiple accounts help create delineations between personal and public, and they’re a decoy to help curb spam.

That’s right, our digital identity is predicated on email. When’s the last time you tried to log into a Slack team? Did you notice the option to send a magic link via email? The utility of email is hard to dismiss given that you need an email address to access social media, make online purchases, or even download music.

But, back to my nieces and nephews. Once they hit high school (or perhaps middle school) they will be immersed in digital classrooms like Blackboard, iTALIC, Edmondo, and more. They will learn the value of longer form writing, threads, chat, and other tools that simultaneously mimic a physical classroom, chat, collaboration technology, and social media. The digital stew of today’s rapidly digitizing classrooms gives way to more potent forms as they will reach college and eventually, the workplace.

By the time they have their first jobs, they will have applied for college using an online form, opened a .edu email account (and probably lamented that it wasn’t Gmail, or perhaps not), used a cloud-based word processor to write a term paper, interacted with their professors and classmates via email and social media, and have been socialized in what will be their life if they should enter an office-driven workplace.

These children who I watch play games and watch movies on their parents’ phones today will one day mature into avid users of email as they hit the workplace. They’ll join the world of email users because that’s what their company will run on. Business email is projected to grow at a very healthy 3% a year through 2019, while consumer email will grow at nearly double that!

When they apply for their first job, it will be through LinkedIn or CareerBuilder and they’ll receive a calendar invite to their personal email for a phone screening. Email is how they will enter adulthood. It’s a rite of passage because of its inherent universality, utility, openness, and portability.

Email as a partner

The fact that I live and breathe email doesn’t mean I abhor all other forms of communication; quite the contrary. Communication has long been multimodal by taking the shape of linguistic, aural, visual, and spatial forms of discourse and information representation.

The Internet and the numerous apps and means of communicating and collaborating is similarly multimodal. Understanding the interplay between these various modalities is the real key: do we use Twitter simply to vent our frustration with cable companies and airlines? Is Facebook private and meant for multiple levels and rings of friends? Is email a simultaneous receipt drawer and work repository where our bosses can praise and lambast us while Amazon fills our free mail accounts with shipping notifications that trigger dopamine responses because something is on its way!?

It’s all of the above.

Len Shneyder
Len Shneyder is a 15+ year email and digital messaging veteran and the VP of Industry Relations at Twilio SendGrid. Len serves as an evangelist and proponent of best practices and he drives thought leadership and data-driven insights on industry trends based on the massive volume of email SendGrid delivers on behalf of their customers. Len is a longtime member of M3AAWG (the Messaging, Malware, Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group) and served on its board in addition to Co-Chairing the Program Committee. He’s also part of the MAC (Member Advisory Committee) of the EEC (Email Experience Council) where he serves as the organization's MAC Chair. The EEC is a professional trade organization focused on promoting email marketing best practices. The EEC is owned by the ANA (Association of National Advertisers), a nearly 100-year-old organization where he also sits on the Ethics Committee. In addition, Len has worked closely with the ESPC (Email Sender & Provider Coalition) on issues surrounding data privacy and email deliverability.