Belfast Telegraph

Robert McNeill: Is email on the way out already? I thought it had only just got here

No sooner had I digested the news that the letter was dead than I found myself masticating the intelligence that the phone call was expiring before, finally, I chewed over the intelligence that even the email was dying.

Well, what does that leave us? I'm not twittering, and that's final. Nothing but trouble, as far as I can see. In too many instances, the words are out before the thoughts are fully formed. (Reader's voice: “Yes, that sounds familiar.”)

You all know the words of the Chinese sage Lao Tse: “Those who speak do not know, those who know do not speak.” That was easy for him to say. And some say: “Chinese sage was off his onion.” But you get his gist.

That the letter is nearly extinct is hardly news. No one writes letters now, unless to make a formal complaint (usually to a bank or — what's that other popular thing? — oh yes, a newspaper). That the telephone call could become extinct was news to me.

My personal experience has, as usual, little bearing on the matter. I return from holiday and press 1471 to get the message: “You were last called shortly after the outbreak of World War Two.”

But I assumed that normal people received lots of calls. Whenever I go for a coffee with anyone, the conversation is interrupted every two minutes by their portable telephone ringing. Mine never goes off, and I sit there thinking: “I'm a journalist and you're a filing clerk in the accounts department. So why the hell is everybody phoning you?”

Still, I've noticed a diminution in the number of calls that other people get. I suppose folk are texting, though I expect to read tomorrow that texting is dead.

But they can't seriously be telling us that email is on the way out. It only just arrived.

You'll have to follow me closely here, as even I can barely understand what I'm about to say. Suffice to say that evil social internet site Facebook lies behind the threat to email.

The F-word's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, announced that his new messaging service would do for email which, he said, was too slow and informal.

I'd like to say something here. And it is this: eh? Email's pretty instant — innit? — and Effbook's the last place that you'd go for formality.

It's hardly full of messages saying: “Further to my previous remarks heretofore, it is my great honour to announce to the lieges that I am about to embark on the train.”

I couldn't follow the rest of Comrade Zuckerberg's announcement. He seemed to be saying he'd kill off email with Fmail, while also seeing off Gmail (Google's system, apparently).

The latter has 193m users, Hotmail has 362m, and Yahoo! 273m. Who are these people?

They're not me, that's for sure. I'm one of the billions remaining bewildered.

It's time, I feel, for a technological slowdown. Remember the words of the Simon and Garfunkel song, Feelin’ Groovy: “Slow down, you're going too fast/Got to make the morning last.”

Mind you, they went on to add: “Hello lamp-post, what cha knowin'?/I've come to watch your flowers growin'.” I see.

Tell you what, maybe we should all just lie down for a bit. And, no, you can't take your laptop with you.

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