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Technology

I am the email generation!

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanNovember 17, 2010 2:19 PM

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David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, has a breathless take on the rise of Facebook and its impending assault on Google in The Daily Beast. There's a lot of hyperbole and Facebook-cheering throughout the piece, but this bold but unsupported assertion caught my attention:

Email is, as we all know, a horribly broken system. It is what almost all of us lean on the most heavily to get our work done. Yet we all know it is inefficient and unwieldy. Now Facebook's innovations aim to use its so-called "social graph," the set of relationships you have with another user, to remake daily electronic communication.

Who is this we you speak of David? Au contraire, as a victim of the Robert Lavelle spam of the late 1990s I think the current dispensation is so much more heavenly! True, unlike the spring of 1995 I don't greet "you have new mail!" with great excitement. Whereas in 1995 an email from a foreign country aroused anticipation, today I am more likely to suspect that something has made it through the spam filter if it is not of American provenance. But speaking of spam, whatever happened to that? Yes, things do really get better, and the dikes sometimes do hold the sea back. And as a counterpoint to David Kirkpatrick's argument I would assert that Facebook has improved my experience of email. With the rise of Facebook I get far fewer short messages from my friends. Hardly any carbon-copy lists. I've also removed subscription to e-lists. In short, Facebook sucked up all the social candy from my inbox, leaving it dominated by more substantive material which warrants real attention (or, emails from publicists and such which are easily ignored if not worthy of deeper inspection). I expressed skepticism earlier about Zadie Smith's fashionable and pretentious moral panic about the Youth. Color me just as skeptical of the idea that the Youth will erase all boundaries of social distinction and register, transforming all communication into a conversational "mash-up." We already experimented with an unstructured free-for-all, it was called MySpace.

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