Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Fates of Wristwatches and Email

Earlier this week The New York Times had an article about Beloit College’s Mindset List for the Class of 2014: a set of observations about how college kids’ lifestyles and worldviews are changing.

Among the observations were, “With cell phones to tell them the time, there is no need for a wrist watch,” and “Email is just too slow.” (The observations came from a professor and a former public-affairs professional who divined and distilled the incoming class’s zeitgeist into statements like these.)

For me, the main point of interest was how the Times’ headline writer spun the story. The headline said, “For the Class of 2014, No E-Mail or Wristwatches,” as if email and wristwatches were fast becoming things of the past. Do you see the potential fallacy?

It is true that fewer people are wearing wristwatches for functional purposes, as opposed to fashion purposes. Because many college kids never wore a watch to begin with, their generation exemplifies this change. Fair enough.

But can we say the same for email? College and younger kids communicate primarily with family and friends. This type of informal communication has trended toward texting, instant messages, and quick updates via social networks. But when the Class of 2014 hits the working world, its members will find that, unlike a wristwatch, email is still a necessity. For many types of communications with customers and co-workers, email is not just expected but is still the best way to connect.

That said, instant messaging and social networking are finding places in the working world. In some cases, they are relieving email of duties it was never suited for, like rapid back-and-forth exchanges or quick updates. That is a real trend, but it does not amount to email going away any time soon.

So, the fact that the Class of 2014 isn’t into wristwatches and email is true on the surface, but leaving it at that is misleading. The reasons why—and the implications for the future of wristwatches and email—are different.

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