Email is older than the Internet itself. Email was first used in the 1960s. In 1971, the first ARPANET email was sent and by 1974 there were hundreds of military users of email.
In 1984, bulletin board systems running on IBM PCs started using FidoNet to transfer messages back and forth.
It wasn’t until the 1990s before email as we know it really took off. Email was designed to traverse unreliable networks using a best-effort approach to get to its final destination. What does this mean in simple English? It means that if the first contact with the other side fails, it keeps trying, it can keep trying for over 24 hours, sometimes days, before it finally gives up. To put it simply, there are no guarantees that when you click send, it’s going to get there immediately. None. Zero. Zilch. Nothing can be done to improve this. It’s just the way it is designed. With today’s proliferation of spam, it’s not guaranteed to get there at all. There could be any number of things that might set a spam filter off and your email ends up trashed.
Real time communications require other forms of communications or even possibly a different way of doing things. Chat is one example of different communications. Even then, there’s no real guarantee it will make it to the other end. One example of doing things different is similar to when you send a help request in to a ticketing system. The system responds to your email by sending you one saying your request was received. That way, you know your email was received into their system.
Is email secure? Absolutely not! Email is sent in clear text and anyone can tap into it as it goes across the various routes to get to its destination. It’s absolutely imperative to never send credit card information, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, or anything else that is considered personal information. Progress is being made, but while two systems may in fact transfer emails securely between each other, right now, you have no way of knowing and know way to be sure this will actually happen. There are ways to send secure email. You might have received an email from an insurance company with a link to go to a secure site. That is one way. Microsoft offers secure email sending and receiving with its Office 365. There are various others out there. Before sending any private information, check with your email provider to find out how to send it to be sure it is being sent securely.
With email being not 100% reliable and not secure, the question you may be asking is “What do we use?” The answer is “It depends.” (That’s the answer to all things IT, by the way.) Faxes preceded email, but yet their reliability and security depends on the other end. Many faxes have just been thrown away, left on someone else’s desk, or just got mixed up with other faxes. Personal faxes are read by everyone in the office. Credit card information is left in plain sight. Some suggest FedEx, again, FedEx only guarantees delivery to the building, not the actual recipient. It may not ever make it to the intended recipient.
As more businesses make the transition to Office 365, Skype for Business may eventually replace traditional email. Only time will tell though.
Keep all this in mind, and understand the limitations of email, and you’ll find it is still a useful tool. Just as a hammer isn’t the best tool to use all the time, neither is email. But sometimes, a hammer works great!