Rumors are (once again) flying around that people are going to be charged for sending email, postage stamp style. The details are uncertain, although the NYTimes has their version; apparently, Yahoo! and AOL are involved in this and there will still be free email, but paid for email will be given priority. The logic is (always has been) that companies should have to pay for bulk mail in order to minimize spam. There are arguments concerning the effectiveness of this and there’s the issue of variable global economies and how this might hinder poorer companies, non-profits, and anyone who doesn’t have the economic capital of the porn industry. There are lots of good arguments on both sides, but i don’t want to focus on that.
What i want to highlight instead is an aspect i haven’t heard discussed in the context of this: email is already dying amongst youth. Right now, most of us in our 20s view postal mail as the site of bills and junk mail; the occasional letter and package is super exciting, but we can almost always predict those (they are usually correlated with birthdays, holidays and the one-click button). For youth, it’s the same story with email – you get notices from parents, adults, companies, junk mail, and the occasional attachment that was announced via IM. Add postage stamps to this and email will become even less valuable; your friends won’t pay for it so the system will highlight the companies over your friends – yuck. Even those who appreciate sending email will be alienated by turning this into a capitalist enterprise. Yuck. Bye bye email, hello IM and SMS and alternative asynchronous message systems. There’s nothing like giving corporations a preferential position in the system to destroy a communications platform.