Goodbye E-mail, So Long Portals

I heard a prediction a couple of days ago by
a knowledgeable technological consultant that in five years e-mail will be a
thing of the past. This specialist also says that web portals are already
obsolete. As these changes take place something else happens. Our culture
changes and the way we relate to each other and to the world
changes.

In five years e-mail will be gone and web portals are already obsolete. This was a comment made by a knowledgeable consultant who works with information-based clients who use technology heavily for marketing and communication.

Replacing these two is instant messaging and search engines, according to this observer. What makes the prediction so unsettling to me is that the replacements are already here and are being used heavily by young people. This means the use pattern can be gauged right now within an important segment of the population who are, in effect, the early adopters.

It’s unsettling because some individuals in the circles I travel in have yet to fully adopt e-mail and others are still concerned about regulating information, using policies that were designed in the 50s and 60s.

But we’re not in the fifties anymore, Toto. Information flows realtime across borders and my experience tells me that the attempt to control information, how it flows and to whom it is distributed results in suspicion, mistrust, opposition and ultimately irrelevance.

The pervasive skepticism that marks the post-modern mentality is fed by the belief that large institutions don’t tell the truth and use information to their benefit without considering the effect on their customers, members, or users. This leads to a working assumption–they don’t tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

How many times have I heard this statement, “I wonder what else they aren’t telling us?” usually after the revelation that information was withheld.

My point is this: these new ways of communicating affect our values, relationships, attitudes, trust and behavior. A new culture has already formed among those in the digital generation. They communicate and behave differently than we in the pre-digital generations. And they won’t settle for policies or practices that were formulated for a world that they see as distant and, frankly, irrelevant to their lives.

So those who want to control information are facing an uphill battle that they will eventually lose. The genie’s out of the bottle and it won’t be stuffed back in. New ways of communicating are already happening and new values are being created. And, more interestingly, (at least to me it’s interesting) new ways of relating to each other are being born. And that’s the most important result of these new communication technologies.

In a culture of skepticism those who don’t walk the walk, and who merely talk the talk, are quickly flicked off as irrelevant. If authenticity is not the hallmark of communication over the long run, people will exercise their options and choose other sources or move on to other organizations that fill their needs and serve them with the integrity they desire.

Trust is a precious and vital thing. It’s very easy to lose it and very difficult to recover it. Of course it can be done, but it’s a time-consuming process that takes careful evaluation and different behavior.

Realtime messaging and search engines are more than mere technological innovations. They are indicators of a paradigm shift toward even greater individual empowerment and in that way they are value-laden. They are built on trustworthiness and they give individuals choices to accept or reject those institutions they deem untrustworthy. It’s a flick of the cursor to move on to the next website where I can get the information I need, or the background I desire. Institutional loyalty is hard to achieve and harder still to recover once loyalty has been betrayed.

So, that’s the challenge that almost every organization faces today in reaching out to the post-modern mind. And it will become even more challenging when e-mail is replaced by instant messaging and when people decide to go first to the search engine and not to the portal.

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