July 15, 2010 10:29:00 AM
Peter Imes - [email protected]
For the past two columns, we''ve explored the way the Internet has changed the way we live. The first week we looked at movies and entertainment, and last week I discussed ways the Internet has taught us to expect to receive stuff for free. Let''s look at the way the Internet has changed the way we communicate with each other.
Approximately 7.3 billion non-spam e-mails are sent in the US per day. In contrast, the US Postal Service handled a relatively meager 485 million pieces of mail per day in 2009. A computer engineer named Ray Tomlinson developed e-mail in 1971 as part of a Department of Defense project. The project he was working on did not require the development of a way to communicate; Tomlinson thought it would be "a neat idea" to be able to send a message from one networked computer to another. He''s the one who selected the "@" symbol to place between the username and the computer name.
E-mail is delivered nearly immediately and it''s free. E-mail doesn''t care if you are sending a message to the person in the next cubicle or to someone in Egypt. Because of these advantages, e-mail is the communication method of choice for virtually any type of relationship: student/teacher, boss/employee, friends. E-mail is even an acceptable method of delivering your resume to many employers.
I mentioned Skype in my column last week. Skype is a computer application that allows you to use the Internet to place inexpensive phone calls. If you are calling another Skype user, your call is free; if you call a traditional phone- domestic or international- you pay a fraction of regular long distance rates. Skype reportedly accounts for about 10 percent of all international phone calls.
Google Voice has been called a Skype-killer. Though I haven''t used it yet, its features are impressive. Voice allows you to create a new phone number for yourself that can ring as many of your phones as you want. You can set up custom greetings that vary depending on who is calling you. You may want a more professional greeting for a business associate than you want with a friend.
Voice allows you to place inexpensive international phone calls. You enter the number you want to call into Voice''s website. Voice calls you on your phone and then calls the number you entered and patches you together. Rather than talking to the person with your computer''s microphone and speakers, you can use your cell or home phone.
You can also block certain callers and convert voice-mails to text so you can read them rather than listen to them. Oh, guess what Google Voice costs. That''s right ... not a penny. Check it out at http://www.google.com/voice.
Facebook and Twitter are the two dominant social media websites that allow messaging between users. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populous with over 400 million registered users. 50 million messages -- or tweets -- are sent per day on Twitter. Both services are free and make sharing information online very easy. Facebook''s strength is in connecting you with past and present friends. Twitter''s strength is in connecting to people with similar interests.
Increasingly I''ve noticed people relying on Facebook''s messaging tool as a substitute for e-mail. This is a dangerous practice that I hope will stop. Facebook is a private website, run by a 26-year-old, that happens to be in vogue right now. Relying on such a site for critical communication is asking for trouble. Take my advice: stick with good old-fashioned e-mail for important messages.
The funny thing about all of this is that I''m not convinced that any of these have made communication any more efficient. Sure, they''ve given us new and different methods of communicating that are helpful, but isn''t it quicker to just pick up the phone and call someone a lot of the time? By the time you peck out your initial question in an e-mail, you could have called the person and worked out all the details. Each method of digital communication has a benefit -- just don''t forget to use the phone when it makes sense.
Peter Imes is publisher of The Dispatch. You can email him at [email protected]