An article in the New York Times points out the growing divide between communication modes of people young and old. Not surprisingly, those in the younger bracket prefer real-time online chats and text messaging to traditional email. Actual phone calls have been on the decline for some time.
Younger people tend to prefer a more conversational and real-time flow in their digital communication, and therein lies the problem with email. The process of signing in, filling in subject lines, and having to possibly wait hours for a response, is too much formality for the younger demo. Unique visitors to web-based email services like Yahoo and Hotmail are in decline since their peak last year, and only Gmail has seen an increase in use.
According to a related study, there has been a 48% decline among people 12-17 using web-based email services since Nov. 2009. Interestingly, the only demographic groups to show positive growth in use of web email in the same period are ages 55-64 and 65+.
Facebook is trying to address the issue by making its new messaging system more conversational, eliminating the subject line and CC/BCC fields altogether. Gmail has added chat and telephony to its array of services, which might explain some of its continued growth.
Overall it seems to be more of a shift than outright extinction for Email, as the article points out. Business people still rely on Email as the standard of communication in the workplace, and online shopping would be virtually impossible without it.