It is hard to believe but the fax machine that runs over a telephone network has been around for about 50 years. We still have them in our offices. In 1996 I was president of a Rotary club in Seattle with a membership of mostly downtown professionals (architects, lawyers, CPAs...) and we distributed our weekly newsletter by fax because only 30% of our members had email addresses.
Soon after that however, email took off and within a year or two everyone I wanted to reach by email had an address. Spam was not really a problem yet. It was the golden age of email. Not only that but we were the email welcoming committee because we wanted more people to do business by email -- so we all promoted it all of the time.
With email on the scene no one defended the fax machine. The paper rolled up, you had to be there, your document was exposed to anyone that happened by... there was a lot to hate about faxes. Of course when you needed a signature by 5 pm and it was 4:45 pm -- everybody was glad the fax machines were there. In fact, all of the real work still came in over the fax machine. When a fax arrived on my desk -- I paid attention.
The list of technologies that have threatened to do to email what email did to fax is long. Most recently we have Linked In, Facebook, and Twitter. And each time the welcoming committee moves to the newest and greatest thing and we all heap scorn on the last thing.
True there is plenty to hate about email. All of the newsletters (most of which I somehow signed up for), the spam that my IT guys block, the rest of the spam that the junk mail filter traps, the cc's of stuff I will never read, the notifications of changes to online things, the phishing attempts and on and on.
Twitter on the other hand is just as great as email when it was new. There is not much spam, everyone is positive about using it, and the welcoming committee could make a Republican feel comfortable in San Francisco. Mostly however, we all love Twitter because no one expects us to read anything there! Glance at the stream if you want, but there is no social contract forcing you to read anything or respond.
The email camp is pretty lonely by comparison. No housewarming gifts and piles of useless junk and also things that people actually expect me to read and think about. I don't think anything is even close to displacing email as the medium of real work for a very long time.