What is your email? A few years ago, that was the most commonly
asked question so as not to lose touch with an acquaintance. But it
has now been joined by other questions: Are you on Twitter? How do I
find you on Facebook?
Minnelly Gonzalez, an accounting supervisor, says that if she counts the emails she sends daily and compares them to her use of social networks, the latter come out on top thanks to the "immediacy" factor.
According to Facebook, there are 1,061,260 Panamanians on that network. Twitter does not provide statistics but according to Dionisio Guerra, an expert on social networks, it reportedly has 250,000 Panamanian users.
Email remains just as relevant as social networks in Latin America, explains Andre Goujon, an expert with Awareness & Research at ESET Latin America.
What happens is that both tools serve different albeit complementary purposes, says Pablo Ruidiaz of the National Authority for Government Innovation.
Although Facebook and Twitter facilitate real-time interacting and sharing aspects of day-to-day life, email allows for more formal communication, Goujon says.
Luis Sanchez, a computer science technician, says adults use email more than youths and that young people tend to choose technological resources like Twitter.
Social networks have become so ubiquitous that in 2012 Microsoft changed its Hotmail service to Outlook.com in order to enhance its versatility by incorporating social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin, Sanchez notes.
According to the Digital Life study, drawn up by the British communication services company TNS and disseminated by the BBC network in London, by the end of 2012 in Latin America an average of 5.2 hours daily were being spent on websites like Facebook and only 4.2 hours on answering and writing email messages.
Goujon emphasizes that the main goal of social networks is not competing with email but rather offering an alternate means of communication, with a more massive slant.
For example, the way Facebook's platform works, the messaging service between users is more limited than that offered by a more traditional email client, Goujon says. He says that as long as the two services meet different needs, users will continue using them.
Luis Sanchez says that although it is true that email is "threatened," there is still a long road ahead. Its fate is in the hands of the user and technological developments.
Mobile Phones as Allies
By 2011, Panama had 7,281,000 telephone numbers assigned to cell phone service, according to the National Public Utilities Authority, and telephone companies estimate that 25 per cent of these devices are smart phones.
Increased cell phone usage is another reason for the boom in social networks, says computer science technician Luis Sanchez. There were 52 million mobile connections to broadband Internet in Latin America in 2010. That number climbed to nearly 100 million in 2012 and it is expected to reach 344 million in 2015, according to the GSM Association, El Tiempo daily reported. In fact, Manuel Castells, a professor at the University of Southern California, said the number of connections to the Internet via cell phones will exceed those made via traditional computers by 2014, the BBC reports.
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