It's writer's block, not spam, that's killing email

Stephen Baker

Fred Wilson blames AOL's bad spam filters for ruining email for his kids. I disagree, and believe that even the best spam filters would leave lots of young people indifferent to email.

The problem with email is that it obliges writers to come to some conclusions about what they're doing. To sum things up. Even when writing an email about, say, a vacation, the writer has to think: OK, What am I going to say? Should I write about the kid who almost drowned, or about how my father's embarrassing me with his stupid jokes? This involves editorial decisions. One bad decision, one ill-advised email, and yesterday's friend can send it to an entire mailing list, and everyone will get a good laugh (if they're checking their inboxes). So writing involves work, and it has consequences.

It's far easier to type "What's up?" (in one spelling or another) into instant chat and just go with the flow.

I ask my 14-year-old about email. He tells me he checks his Yahoo box about once every two days, mostly for e-commerce and game news. I ask him if he ever writes e-mails. "No," he says. "I don't have long-distance relationships. Why would I write e-mails if I'm going to see the kids at school? I can get on AIM and talk to them."

Of course, the less people in a community use email, the less value it has for those who would. This is the inverse of Metcalfe's Law, and as Fred notes, it's undermining email.

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