In Defence of Spam

Nobody could really be surprised when spam emails started appearing. Every other communication medium is filled with advertisements and unsolicited intrusion. Newspapers are filled with adverts, and we are harassed by junk mail, telemarketing and door-to-door salesmen.

Two experiences have give me something more to think about when it comes to spam.

Some time ago I was reading the traffic of an email list of which I am a member. For some reason somebody posted to the list a spam message that they had received. Somebody else said “hang on, I’ve received that as well.” All of a sudden everybody was looking through their spam folders, and lots had received the same message. The list was in uproar – how had the spammer got their details?

Had their email addresses been grabbed from the list server, probably hacked by a malicious Russian teenager and sold for thousands? Their email addresses had in fact been collected by hand by another member of the list, whose friend was starting a company and was trying to drum up some publicity. Many on the list responded angrily. It seemed like they’d collected together all their hatred of email spam and directed it at this one person. This seemed a little harsh to me, especially when it became apparent he’d received a threatening phone call, which takes a petty argument to a whole new level.

The second event was more recent. A group with whom I am involved were organising an event. They’d collected lots of names and addresses, and also two-hundred or so email addresses which they wanted to contact about the event. I declined. Should I have?

Now we all know about evil spam. I don’t want tablets or surgery in an attempt to improve my sexual prowess. Nor do I want illegal drugs or to help Nigerians transfer money around. Over here we have banks for that. That sort of spam is a complete waste of packets, and probably clogs up the tubes.

But what about the other sort of Spam?

Supposing I were launching an event, or starting up a business. I’d probably print some fliers and put them through a lot of doors. I’d probably send some emails to people I knew, and to people they new, and maybe to people I didn’t know at all. Surely if my business is providing a useful service then maybe it’s in their interest to know about it.

In turn, I sometimes quite like getting junk through the door. It’s nice to know that some kids down the street will mow my lawn if I get bored of doing it myself, and I’m grateful for some of the takeaway menus. Email is a far better medium for this communication. It takes about the same to decide what’s important and what isn’t, but there’s no impact on the environment or effort required to dispose of the item.

So I say bring on the spam. Just make sure it’s interesting, relevant, and that I might want to use what you’re selling.

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