This Wall Street Journal Article About Teens Struggling With Email Reads Like Satire

This Wall Street Journal Article About Teens Emailing Is So Absurd That It Reads Like Satire

This morning I got an email from a friend that read, “This reads like satire” with a link to the following Wall Street Journal column. And look at us, just a 28-year-old dude and a 29-year-old dude communicating with each other using the archaic methods of emailing, something kids these days can’t grasp. But he was right, the entire column about “Generation Z” felt so out of this world that parts of it did indeed read as though it was an Onion column making fun of the younger generation.

The original text of For Generation Z, Email Has Become A Rite Of Passage is in quotes.

Your personal hierarchy of life-altering firsts likely includes your first kiss, your first time behind the wheel or the first time you left home. For members of Generation Z, now in their teens or early 20s, another rite of passage has taken on outsize importance: sending your first email.

That’s… that’s insanity. I remember sending my first email, but that’s because email was the new trailblazing technology that none of us really understood. In fact, I even remember what it was about — it was me telling my friend I would be able to do a 1080° on skis before he’d be able to, all because of the game 1080° Snowboarding. But comparing today’s teens sending an email to me getting my first kiss? Nah, impossible. Don’t compare my braces-filled mid-summer lip-liplock under that street post outside of my house to some 17-year-old ungrateful twerp shooting out an email from the iPhone his parents bought him. That’s insulting.

“I’m more of an adult now that I send email,” says Sumanth Neerumalla, a junior at the University of Maryland. He says becoming a person who sends emails felt like a bigger rite of passage than registering to vote.

Newsflash, Sumanth — Sending an email doesn’t make you more of an adult, especially when you compare it to voting. That statement, in and of itself, is what’s wrong with kids today. They think so little of voting for the people that run this country that they put it on-par with sending a five-second email blast to their colleagues.

You might think a generation as tech-savvy as this one, which can hardly remember a time before smartphones, Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram, would have embraced email in its infancy.

But progress has inverted the order in which Generation Z encounters many technologies, relative to their older peers. Many used tablets before laptops, streaming before downloads and chat before email. For them, email is as about as much fun as applying to college or creating a résumé.

Email is about as much fun as applying to colleges or creating fucking résumés? How lazy are these entitled little turds? There’s legitimately nothing worse than updating your résumé, applying to colleges, and scheduling classes. That’s the triple-headed monster of growing up. We talkin’ about emails, man. Emails.

“The way I first perceived email was, it was something my parents did for work,” says Zach Kahn, a 21-year-old senior at George Washington University.

Listen, Zach, emails are what you do for life — not just for work. Maybe if you talked about a fax machine like some grandiose version of outdated technology I’d be onboard with you. But we talkin’ about emails, man. I’d give it to you if we were talkin’ fax, because that technology and functionality blows my mind. But emails are easier for old people to figure out than texting is, which says a lot.

“I would never even think of emailing my friends, they would just react super weird,” says Tanya E. Van Gastel, a 21-year-old senior at University of Antwerp, in Belgium. “They would be like ‘Why don’t you text me?’ ”

Oh, I don’t know, Tanya. Maybe people email to include attachments, reach a wider audience of people they don’t have in their phones, or because sitting down at a keyboard to type 500 words easier than texting. And the possibilities of email don’t end there either.

Those of us who went to college before Facebook might remember heartfelt emails to friends. That is an alien concept to most of Generation Z.

Or, as 16-year-old Ben Pasternak, developer of the hit iOS game Impossible Rush, wrote me when I asked if he emails to friends, “No, no teen does that ha-ha.”

Okay, I’ll admit that when texting came out, it definitely minimized the need for email. I went from sending emails from my Hotmail account to flirting with girls using SMS messages. But emailing a friend is much different than emailing a boss, professor, colleague, or future coworker. Like, come on, Ben. You just going to hop on your phone and start sending out cover letters via text when your dumb iOS game finally tanks and you burn out of your tech money? Please.

Generation Z has moved through multiple communication tools—from texting, AOL instant messenger and MSN messenger to Facebook Messenger and a crush of communication apps. All are chat-based: instantaneous, short and informal. That is the antithesis of the business email.

Yeah, Wall Street Journal. I legit just explained that. What’s your point?

“I have eight different means of communication,” says Ms. Van Gastel, whose phone audibly chirped in the background throughout our interview. “I have a personalized ringtone for every different messaging app so I can guess who is texting me,” she adds.

Man, having 18 different messaging apps sounds so much easier than one email account where everything goes to the same place. That doesn’t sound complicated or annoying at all. And 18 different tones as well? Yeah, sign me up because hearing a plethora of annoying text tones is like the calming of birds chirping to me. Your setup sounds amazing.

Some of the young people I interviewed have had email accounts since they were 11, but use them almost exclusively to receive school assignments or to sign up for things online. Overwhelmingly, they treated email as a read-only medium, until they had to use it to communicate with adults.

Well yeah, when I was a little guy, I did the same thing but that doesn’t mean I was ignorant when it came to the importance of it. I wasn’t about to start telling old people to hit me up on my cell phone. That shit is sacred and I’ll pretty much do anything in my power to avoid having someone I don’t like texting with me.

As they move into their first internships and jobs, some are discovering that mastering the arcane art of a good email—Mr. Neerumalla calls it “long-form texting”—can be a competitive advantage. Email, after all, is still a way to reach out to nearly anyone, with a chance at a response.

What kind of top-tier dickhead calls email “long-form texting”?

Xavier Di Petta credits email with some of his success as a precocious entrepreneur.

In 2009, when he was 12 years old, Mr. Di Petta found email addresses for YouTube staffers in a lawsuit document and contacted them directly about a new program that allowed him to make money from his videos. Mr. Di Petta was admitted to the program, and says the visibility led in part to a $2 million investment in his social-media startup, All Day Media, in 2014.

See, kids? Look what happens when you embrace email. You start hustling millions of dollars and closing deals. But I assume you’d rather sit on WhatsApp or Viber sending each other those Snapchat sticker things they’re all jacked up about, wouldn’t you?

Email, however, isn’t always smooth sailing for members of Generation Z weaned on texting.

Interviewees recall mistakes that are forgivable in texts but not emails, such as drafts they had failed to review before sending, misspelled names and dispatching multiple short emails rather than one thoughtful missive. Like email users of all ages, they have run afoul of the dreaded “reply all” land mine.

What a bunch of boneheads. I feel like this is a reasonable take, but if you can figure out Snapchat, can’t you figure out email? I’ve been using Snapchat for the better part of a year and I still have no idea what 90% of the app does. Meanwhile, I can still manage to send an email to someone without replying all or littering it with mistakes. Seems backwards that these kids can’t figure out the analog version of Snapchat, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable to say.

Mr. Kahn, the George Washington senior, says he mistakenly included his high-school guidance counselor in a reply intended only for his parents. “I had said something to the effect of ‘f*** no’ to a ‘safety school’ that my guidance counselor had suggested I apply to, and she replied with something like ‘message received.’ ”

Good, that’s on him. If you’re reckless enough to act like a dickhead when communicating with your parents and superiors, you deserve to get outed for being the prick that you are. Sure, I’ve sent a text to the wrong person or forgotten that someone was in an iMessage that I didn’t realize, but what kind of asshole little kid is dropping fuck-bombs in emails involving his parents and guidance counselors in the first place?

One University of Southern California-Yahoo study of 16 billion emails exchanged among two million users of Yahoo mail found that teens were the fastest to respond to emails and sent the shortest messages. They appeared to be “using email as text messages,” says Kristina Lerman, a co-author of the study and a USC professor.

Well, I hate to give these jerks credit, but that’s at least better than getting asked, “Why didn’t you follow up with me?” after your boss forgets to respond to an email.

Generation Z’s willingness to adopt email may reflect hard lessons learned by their underemployed, debt-burdened older peers, says Jason Dorsey, co-founder of Generational Kinetics, a survey firm that focuses on young people.

“Millennials wanted the rules bent to them, and Generation Z is saying, ‘I’ll take whatever job you have, tell me what you need to me to do and I’ll follow the rules to be successful,’ ” Mr. Dorsey says.

Wait, how did this turn into a skewering of everyone in their mid-twenties and early-thirties? What’d we do wrong here? You told us to go to overpriced institutions. You told us to take out loans to afford an education we’d barely use. You told us that’s how it works. And now you’re trying to puff the sails of these high schoolers who don’t know how to use something as simple as email? Am I going crazy here?

Email’s grip on the workplace means it isn’t dying out, at least not yet, he notes. That might need to wait until Generation Z is in charge. Then, we’ll find out if email’s advantages—an open standard that allows people using different services to communicate, as opposed to siloed messaging apps—will outweigh its disadvantages, such as spam. It is entirely possible email will survive because we still need a place to communicate slowly and thoughtfully, rather than in short bursts.

I don’t want to live in world where I’m communicating solely through the fast-acting messaging apps. I like sitting down in the morning, sipping coffee, and plowing through my inbox. Makes me feel accomplished and good about myself. Plus, I can check an email and not feel guilty about hitting someone with a read receipt. You can’t put a price on that.

Or maybe not. Generation Z’s younger peers—dubbed “Generation Alpha” by some—are even more evolved in their use of communication technologies, says Gilad Abarbanel, a 20-year-old junior at Rutgers University who runs a summer camp and youth movement.

“When I talk to people in their freshman year of high school,” says Mr. Abarbanel, “they say ‘Facebook is for old people.’ ”

I don’t even know what to say anymore. Yesterday an Uber driver told me I looked like I had a “rough one” after I hadn’t gone out the night before and now I’ve got college kids thinking I’m an old person because I use Facebook. I don’t know which way is up anymore.

Email this to a friend


Will deFries (Twitter / Instagram) is a Senior Editor at Grandex and the world's foremost authority on Sunday Scaries (Twitter / Instagram).

17 Comments You must log in to comment, or create an account

Show Comments

For More Photos and Content

Latest podcasts

Download Our App

Take PGP with you. Get

New Stories

Load More