The 175th anniversary of the Penny Black last month highlighted the potential of innovation to work to the common good. Through standardisation of format and pricing, the first adhesive postage stamp replaced the
inconsistencies of the prevailing postal system with a clear, uniform and low-cost means of communication that led to a massive increase in activity and enterprise. About 150 years later, email was to have a similar effect in the digital age.
It is testament to the rapid pace of progress today that email is already falling out of favour. As we report on page 10, email is increasingly seen as a costly drain on productivity. Part of the problem (also a benefit) is that email is free (or seen as free) for the sender, with costs borne by the recipient in the form of time spent processing messages.
A big part of the Penny Black’s success was that it replaced payment on delivery with pre-payment by the sender. In that respect at least email has turned the clock back more than 175 years. As we celebrate the achievement of Rowland Hill, perhaps we should consider whether a system of pre-payment for email (if only nominally) would make people think more carefully about how and when they used it.
James Goulding, Editor, email@example.com