Monday, August 23, 2010

Life and Death of e-Mail and e-Books: Roundup of Recent News on Media and e-Books

The next few posts take a brief pause from the account of my sabbatical over the past year to report on some of the news that caught my eye over the past few weeks about:

  • Media (general)
  • e-Books


  • Research
  • Schools
  • Higher education

Next, workplace learning

  • Nonprofits
  • And a different perspective

News about media (general)
The blogosphere is chockablock with predictions of various technologies.

For example, a couple of months ago, Tim Young declared the death of e-mail on the Knowledge is Social blog (   On the one hand, he was accurately reading surveys saying that use of e-mail was declining, especially among younger people, who prefer instant messaging, texting, and social networks for communicating.

Over time, however, we in the media tend to love hyperbole about media.  The typical story goes like this: a new medium is going to “kill” an existing one.  Television was going to replace radio and movies.  Cable would kill broadcast television.  Computers will replace the classroom.

But as sociologist Neil Selwyn observed at the recent ED-MEDIA conference in Toronto, such hyperbole can, at times, sound “ridiculous” (he was specifically referring to a comment that social media will replace schools).

Steve Lohr puts the situation into a broader perspective in a recent analysis in the New York Times, observing that—in the long-run—media adapt.  Radio lost its primacy as an entertainment medium, but found new lives—first as background music, news and talk (which has taken a primary role in shaping political debate (my addition))—and later, through satellite radio with a  wide range of music and conversation.  Lohr even identifies podcast as a reinvention of the radio show.

Similarly, rather than lose to television, movies reinvented themselves, first with gimmicks like 3D (geez—and now television is trying the same thing) and, later, with a richer viewing experience not feasible through television.

E-mail?  That’s not dead either.  It’s just morphing in use as are telephone calls.  People may be calling less, but some evidence suggests that some of all of all that increased texting is used to schedule phone conversations.  Merely calling people to say hi unannounced is increasingly seen as an intrusion.

Check out Lohr’s analysis, Now Playing: Night of the Living Tech, at

News about e-books

  • Michael Wolf declares that "e-Books Won the War." I didn't realize we were at war (at least, not over books).  From my perspective, the conversion from print to e-books is part of a larger, systemic conversion from print to online information, and the conversion is very much in process and likely to continue for the foreseeable future.  But, like most industry pundits, hyperbole is intended to drum up attention and, perhaps, business.  Read his comments at
  • For a more fact-based account of the situation with e-books, check out the current issue of Spectrum, IEEE's magazine.  After providing a current assessment of the brutal market conditions for manufacturers of e-book readers, Spectrum's  editors report the results of their testing and ranking of all the e-readers out there, including obscure ones that no one ever hears about, like the Bookeen Cybook Opus and the Hanvon WISEreader.  Among the useful information in the reviews are the strengths and drawbacks to each reader, and a list of formats that the readers can display.  No format is universal (a problem), but the ePub and PDF formats seem extremely popular.  Read the article at


Wren said...

Nice commentary Saul! I've been tracking the same dialog. What I liked most about the IEEE article were the comments readers made about the review. Aside from the remarks about how the review ignores Sony products (a major omission) and that the authors chose to compare tablet PCs to e-readers (not really a fair comparison), the main issues that keep resurfacing are (no surprise): readability, the display of graphics (e.g., tables and calculations), legibility of the type, etc. In a word, people want good information design (!) as well as portability and a screen they can use outside. So for all this talk about death of this and that some issues are still quite alive.

Saul Carliner said...

Thanks for the feedback and the additional helpful insights you've provided.