Courtesy of my New Atlantis colleague Ari Schulman I see this article by Alastair Croll lamenting that his "inbox is broken . . . in a fundamental, inboxes-will-never-be-the-same-again kind of way." Only a minority of items in his recent email inbox, he says, were conversations he had with other folks; the rest were "records of things I’d done, people who’d followed me on social networks, bookings I’d made, confirmations of sites I’d signed up for, and so on." And he wants his email inbox to be the one place where all the pieces of his social life are organized.
I wonder how many other people will be wanting the same thing in the coming years. I think of my sixteen-year-old son for whom email is a completely marginal technology: it tells him when someone has posted something to his Facebook page, but he already knows that information anyway. His mom and dad are almost the only people who communicate with him via email. If you simply took his email account away from him I don't think he would miss it at all. And he's not unusual in this respect — many of my students only check their email to hear from their parents or their teachers.
Maybe we do need a centralized inbox for our lives, but it seems unlikely to me that email will be the place where that happens — except maybe for old codgers like Alistair and me.