The words “social network” imply that such tools will connect you with the people in your life. That’s not how these services work anymore.

At this point in the downward spiral of life on the internet, Instagram is mostly jammed with viral videos, none of my friends are active on Facebook, and Twitter—a site I once used to both kindle and maintain friendships—is a husk of what it once was (it’s not even called Twitter anymore). At this point, there’s basically nowhere I can talk to all my friends at once.

Except for in an email. Here we are, deep into the Web 2.0 era (or possibly in the web 3.0 era, depending on how much you’ve bought into the blockchain), and the best way to talk to a group of your friends online is a technology that dates back to the 1970s. If social networks are about connecting you to the people in your life, which I would argue they are, email is the only social network still standing.

Things didn’t have to be this way. The companies that run social networks could have made different decisions. They could have prioritized actual connection over their endless appetite for dopamine-driving scale. But they didn’t, and their platforms are now terrible at doing what they were ostensibly created to do.

Email, meanwhile, still works just fine.

Messaging is a fragmented mess

I host a party once a month. I email a large group of people to let them know that they can stop by. Sometimes a few people respond to it and hit reply-all, causing minor chaos, which is fine; sometimes no one does, which is also fine. Every month a handful of the people I email stop by, and we have a great time. The people who don’t stop by tell me that they still like getting the emails.

It’s hard to think of another tool I could use to accomplish this as effectively. There was a time, in the early 2010s, when I might have used Facebook, but no one I know under 60 who is still active there. I could hypothetically start a Discord server, but that means building an entire online community that pulls together friends from different parts of my life, which I don’t want to do. And even if I did, it would only work if everyone both joined and checked my server regularly. I doubt that would happen.

The same goes for any other messaging service. Most of my friends use some combination of Apple Messages, Signal, Whatsapp, Messenger, and probably other services I don’t even know about. There’s no simple way to message users of one service from another, meaning there’s no simple way to reach everyone at once. There is no one thing that everyone uses except possibly SMS, and SMS is a nightmare way to talk to large groups.

Email has none of these problems. I can send an email to a group of people, regardless of which email provider they use, and it will work. It doesn’t matter if my friends use Gmail, Outlook, Proton, or an email server running on a Rapsberry Pi—it all works the same, and I can be reasonably certain that people will actually receive and even read the message. If there’s a better tool out there for this I haven’t found it (and finding tools and software is literally my job).

Email newsletters are the new blogs

Email isn’t just for planning parties. I run a small email newsletter. It more or less serves as a roundup of my articles from various outlets, bundled with a few of my thoughts about life. And a picture of my cat. It’s nothing complicated, but I find creating and sending it out rewarding.

There is nothing in my email newsletter that I don’t push out to other social networks, including LinkedIn, Facebook, X, and Mastodon. I sometimes even have brief conversations on those platforms after publishing something, which I appreciate. But fr some reason, the best conversations consistently happen in response to my email newsletters. Some of them are with friends I see regularly; some are with people I haven’t seen or heard from in a while; some are with people I work with; some are with complete strangers. All are actual conversations, featuring an exchange of ideas and a bit of back-and-forth—a little social engagement, which is more than I can say for my interactions on any actual social network.

Perhaps I wouldn’t feel this way if I were an influencer with a massive account on one of those traditional social media platforms. Maybe if I had hundreds of thousands of followers I would get a decent amount of response to anything and everything I published. I’m not sure that I actually want that, though. I also believe that I shouldn’t need to build myself into some form of pseudo celebrity in order for my work to inspire a couple of conversations.

With email, I don’t have to do that. I am sure there are people with different experiences, and I’m happy for them. Perhaps they will leave me a thoughtful comment down below this article saying as much, but I hope they choose to send me a nice email instead.