I don’t have an invitation to use Google Wave, so I can only rely on journalist reports as to what it actually is. But these reports don’t seem especially objective; tech writers have every incentive to hype the next big thing and drive traffic. That seems to be the idea behind this WSJ piece by Jessica Vascellaro announcing the death of email at the hands of Google Wave and Facebook, which Wave most likely endeavors to supplant.
Why wait for a response to an email when you get a quicker answer over instant messaging? Thanks to Facebook, some questions can be answered without asking them. You don’t need to ask a friend whether she has left work, if she has updated her public “status” on the site telling the world so. Email, stuck in the era of attachments, seems boring compared to services like Google Wave, currently in test phase, which allows users to share photos by dragging and dropping them from a desktop into a Wave, and to enter comments in near real time.
As Nicholas Carr points out, the assumption here is that real-time communication is something that everyone is clamoring for and will be experienced as a joyous improvement over the delays and distance of email. Carr recalls email’s early days, when its main workplace benefit was that it freed people from the tyranny of the phone—of being disrupted by it and the demands of callers. Email in theory could be read and answered on one’s own schedule. But since email has next to no transaction costs, personal communication, Carr explains, became broadcasting. We get inundated with trivia and simultaneously we cease to recognize when others might think what we have to say is distracting. So parents forward religious inspiration and “funny” pet videos to their agnostic children and so on. As the internet has merged with phones, email has become merely a more intrusive and all-consuming version of phone communication—both disruptive and trivial. Wave will worsen this, making email even more immediate and presence-demanding than it already has been become thanks to BlackBerrys and iPhones. Carr’s conclusion seems spot on: