Can instant messaging (IM) ever replace email? Absolutely not. Email is still far too pervasive in the workplace. I believe it will always be the number one form of non-verbal communication for working professionals, at least for a long time. But, things appear to be different for college students in Hong Kong. As one study found out, the number one form of communication they prefer is IM. Not email.
Olivine Wai-Yu Lo and Louis Leung (2009) surveyed 236 college students and asked them which communication tool they preferred more: IM or email? Some 78% of the respondents answered that they prefer IM. The study showed that the students loved the reciprocal and back and forth nature of instant messaging. In short, IM was more gratifying than email and seemed to improve their social relationships with one another.
I completely agree with the study’s finding that IM is more gratifying and alluring to college students for communicating when compared to email. However, I do not believe this study supports any idea that IM will someday replace email altogether. As undergraduate students quickly find out upon graduation, the world still revolves around email.
Email is less intrusive. You can receive it and you are not expected to reply back immediately (sometimes you are) like an instant message. It’s also easier to manage and store the conversations and data for retrieving later. IM programs today do have “archiving” options to store your previous conversations, but not like email. There is no pretty little inbox. No robust UI. Not with IM. These are things that the business world will always need.
Effects of gratification-opportunities and gratifications-obtained on preferences of instant messaging and e-mail among college students. Telematics and Informatics, May 2009. doi:10.1016/j.tele.2008.06.001