02 June 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project


Who's Spamming Now?

Could it be you? 

Please accept this brief rumination, engendered in part by an article I recently read about baby pictures*.  I am not discussing your regular spam from the evil, excrescent scum of the internet.  Rather, it is the well meaning and occasionally desired, but often overwhelming, bit-bucket-filling, marginally relevant email from your friends, acquaintances, classmates, and exes of various persuasions. 

Sure, it starts innocently enough.  Your friend sends you a photo he thinks you'll think is hilarious.  And you do!  After all, he's your friend, and you have things in common, including, presumably, your taste in hilarious photos.  But that's just the start...

Now you're on his list.  And it's a fun list.  He sends another photo to two of his friends and he thinks both will enjoy them.  And they do!  But they're not hilarious, just enjoyable.  As the list grows, the commonalty among the listees decreases, and hilarious to one is trivial or stupid or repetitive to many of the others.  Yes, it has become spam.  And nearly ineluctable spam since the sender is on your "whitelist" and your normal tendency to try to keep friends and eschew violence prevents you from issuing a suitable rejoinder.

Here's how you can tell if you're** a spammer:

  • You have friends all along the political spectrum and you send liberal (or conservative) petitions to them all willy-nilly.  Worse, you do so without screening them (the petitions)(or the people's politics) for entertainment value.
  • You send large collections of baby photos to your grandmother and your veterinarian without distinction.
  • You send this incredibly funny movie/ad/song to everyone, even though you downloaded it from a web site and could just as easily point to it with a link.
  • If you do send a web link instead of an enormous file, you do so without comment. This forces the recipient to access it even if, with a minute's thought, you'd realize that many people on your list aren't interested in the fabulous lawn ornament sale or a new source to download '80s sitcoms.

<Free Advice> You can become a better person by realizing that every email you send to your "list" will absorb about the amount of time it took you to compose it multiplied by the number of people on the list.  By not sending it to those who won't be interested, you will save each of them enough time over the year to buy you a thoughtful and possibly expensive present.

And:  Before sending an email, spend just a moment in thought about each individual candidate recipient.  Will he want it?  Will he be amused?  Will he get angry?  At you?  Forget your list for the moment and consider the recipients as individuals.  If this takes too much time or effort, your list is too long and you're making more enemies than friends.  </Free Advice>

I think this is good advice.  I'm not sure if I'm quite old enough to characterize it as "wisdom," but with any luck it will become just that in due course.

*Please understand that this was an article about sending too many baby pictures by email, and I forced myself to read it despite the subject matter.  There were no actual baby pictures in the article!

**I can tell even more easily.  But I don't want to lose any friends by mentioning them here.  This blog itself is doing a fine job.

Richard Factor