Land Lines, Snail Mail and Dead Media

It’s fitting to read this in the Star Tribune on the day the U.S. Postal Service raises the First Class stamp rate to 41 cents.

More than a quarter of young adults have only cell phones, making them the leading edge of a strengthening move away from traditional landline telephones, a federal survey showed Monday.

Overall, the portion of adults with only cell phones grew by more than 2 percentage points in the latter half of last year to nearly 12 percent, an expansion rate that began in the first part of 2006 and was double earlier rates of growth. One in four people aged 18 to 24 had only cell phones, as did 29 percent of those 25 to 29, the study showed. The percentages declined with age after that, with 2 percent of those 65 or older having only cell phones.

We must be young at heart; our family has been sans land line for about a year… ever since we discovered most of our cell phone minutes were consumed by calls from our home land line. We ported the number to a cell for an extra $10 a month, and saved $35 a month by getting rid of the land line.

I wonder whether my kids will ever have a land line. Why would they need one? My daughter and son-in-law each have a cell, but no land line. The only way I can see myself going back is if DSL becomes a strong alternative to cable internet, and when enough video content becomes available through streaming services or downloads. If the phone company’s DSL throws in calling along with the monthly bill for internet, I might take advantage.
It just goes to show that competition beats a regulated monopoly hands down. FedEx and UPS own the package delivery business. Texting and IM are replacing email (especially among young people), which obliterated the fax (as Michael Hyatt has observed), which was the first major challenge to the first class letter. As Hyatt put it, in reflecting on the oddity of receiving a letter which had no email or phone contact included:

I also thought, What a hassle. First, the letter sat in my inbox for several days. Why? Because I assume that anyone who wants a quick answer to something sends an e-mail or leaves a voice mail. About the only letters I get any more are direct mail solicitations or solicitations for charitable contributions. I assume that the only reason these don’t come via e-mail is either the sender doesn’t have my e-mail address or, even if he does, doesn’t want me to regard it as spam.

The only way to reply to this author was to send an actual letter. Talk about “blast from the past.” I probably don’t send more than half a dozen letters a year. Even then, it’s usually because it’s a legal matter that requires this kind of documentation. It’s hard to believe that in 2007, anyone is still sending letters. Snail-mail—at least for most business correspondence—is dead.

People just don’t have the time for an “inquiry-response cycle” that takes weeks. Even faxes are dead. In the 1990s, fax machines were cutting edge technology. Today, they are about as useless as an electric typewriter. I can’t even remember the last time I sent or received a fax. I still subscribe to eFax.com, which allows you to send and receive faxes on your computer, but even that sits idle. In today’s world, even a fax is too much hassle.

E-mail is dramatically shortened the response cycle. Instant messaging is only raising the expectations. People send e-mails and expect a response within hours. In the 90s, when I owned my own company, my partner and I had an unwritten policy that we would respond to everyone within 24 hours. This always impressed our clients. They knew they could count on a quick response. But, by today’s standards, even that wouldn’t cut it. People want answers—and they want them now.

My friend Shel Holtz says with some justification that new media do not kill old media. For example, TV didn’t kill radio: it significantly changed it, and we don’t get long dramas on radio, but radio is still alive and well. This got us into the discussion about whether the death of the 8-track (and then the cassette) disproves his thesis or not. He says the format changed, but it’s still audio.

But what about the fax? Is Michael Hyatt right? Is the fax dead? I remember when it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen, that a document could be sent over telephone wires. But now that many of us don’t have wires for our telephones anymore…

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Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 14. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.

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