The trouble with Email is that it's free!

The trouble with Email is that it's free! Snail Mail entailed a cost. You had to buy a stamp and invest some time and effort in writing a letter and sending it. So the sender always had a value choice: send or do not send. Not so Email....there is no cost to the sender and hardly any effort at all. The sender has no value-choice to make. Send is as easy and costs as little as not to send; so why not just send? The only party paying a heavy cost for email is the recipient. The recipient is overwhelmed by his or her in tray and has to allocate valuable time to sorting, filing, discarding and answering emails most of which would never have been received had the sender had to pay for a digital email stamp! So here is my response to DAVID LAVENDA's Fast Company blog last Thursday, Email Is Crushing Us, Can Activity Streams Free Us? - No! Activity Streams still place the onus on receivers to master the technology and spend the time setting up their activity streams. How about instead, just develop a simple technology that charges me a small fee for every email I send you? You could also have a "free" email address, but no expectations that you will read the email if I send it to that address. The digital postage stamp I am suggesting would be like premium email; email the recipient is more likely to read. The small fee per email would compensate you for the time you spend reading your email and dealing with it. If I am replying to a request from you for information, then you could send me a self-addressed, digitally stamped "envelope" so that you pay for the email, not I. My suggestion is only partially flippant. Apart from it being a practical solution to strangulation by email it is also an important comment on our society: There was a time when people believed that "anything given away for nothing was worth nothing." Now we place a high value on things or information given to us free. Thanks to Google and the new infotech ethos we expect all the information and most of the advice in the world to be available to us on demand free of charge. We delight in the free telephone and video calls supplied by VOIP services and Skype. We revel in free email and text services. But where is all this free-ness leading us? Here are three potential destinations:
  1. As we become more sensitive to avoiding pollution of the environment and atmosphere, our minds, spaces and desks are becoming polluted with trash of a different kind: useless, sometimes untrue, and often unwanted information. The culture of free-ness abolishes penalties for information pollution.
  2. As technology and productivity improvements give us more time, more choices and cheaper products, we fill that newly freed time navigating through mounds of information and  learning new technologies with every new device we collect.
  3. Free-ness means that ultimately entire industries (like the telecommunications and some media industries) will be faced with three choices: (i) find new business models to monetize the value they give away for nothing, (ii) start charging again, which will disrupt consumer patterns, or (iii) go out of business.
Life is about making value-choices every minute of every day. Each choice we make entails a cost and a benefit; sometimes a cost and benefit to us and sometimes to others. We define ourselves by the way we make these value-choices. The term values means the value we place on various alternatives. Some people value education more than leisure, others value food more than health, or leisure more than wealth. We express our values by the choices we make. Freedom means that we are all free to make our value-choices and are accountable for the outcomes of our choices. However, when an action entails no cost at all (financial or otherwise), it has no value. According to this world-view, emails sent free of charge and free of a time investment by the sender, should be worth very little to the receiver. Perhaps my idea of charging for emails is not so off-the-wall after all! Let's spend more time on fewer activities, and invest in what we value and in what others have deemed valuable enough to invest their own time, thoughtfulness or money in. In this age of information pollution, people and companies who take the time and effort to defy the trend and have face-to-face meetings with prospects and clients instead of video-conferences, and who send letters or Fedexes instead of emails, will have the edge.      

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