And it’s not just advertisers whose behaviour could change. A fee makes anyone seeking your attention more thoughtful about whether or not it’s a good use of time and money to get in touch. Salespeople, recruiters, people ‘just looking to catch up’ would think carefully about whether it is worth $10 to ensure you read their email.
There are options out there. Bitbounce is a ‘spam-fighting solution’ that requires senders who are not on your contacts list to pay you a small amount for each email: otherwise it goes straight to spam. Bitbounce’s requirement that you use cryptocurrency will be a barrier for many people, but it’s a good start.
Ideally, each of us could personalise the costs by sender, time, issue and costs. People with less demand on their ‘attention cost’ set the cost lower, thus ensuring a personalised balance of inbounds to attention. We could set the price for family, friends and organisations we love to zero, while setting a hefty price for spam mail.
Even I have a reactionary cringe when explaining my email policy, however. Don’t people think it’s selfish, arrogant or rude? What about people for whom the cost might represent a significant chunk of change?
To the first question: all the people who got in touch through Earn were happy to do so. It helps that the money goes to a few charities I support – I’m not getting rich off this.
It definitely isn’t perfect though.
I remember being a young person with too many life choices in front of me. I’ve emailed people I admired, requested their time and guidance, and been lucky and grateful when they’ve replied.
Both in gratitude to those who helped and disdain for those who didn’t, I remember making a resolution to never ‘ghost’ a younger person looking for some guidance. Of course, that’s easier when you aren’t juggling a 50-hour-a-week job and a three-year-old child.
Using this system, it’s possible that – without knowing it – I might have missed some great conversations or people I could have helped. I like to think the most motivated people might find some other route to me.
Once you experience how much less cluttered your email is under a ‘sender pays’ model, it’s weird that we aren’t all doing it.
The benefits to this change are noticeable quickly. I look forward to reading email, because almost all of it is worthwhile. I spend much less time reading and ignoring generic requests.
And it makes me commit to a higher quality response because I know the sender has valued my time too. Goodwill and thoughtfulness are a virtuous circle.
Daniel Egan is the director of behavioral finance and investing at Betterment, an online financial advisor. He oversees a team of quantitative investment experts and behavioral finance experts.
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