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Originally published at Crap and Garbage in Violent Opposition.  Edited and adapted for inclusion here.



I would suspect that ninety percent of the people who blog regularly, or indeed post any kind of online content, don't really expect that they'll be read.   The vast majority of the people in this world live and die in obscurity. Their thoughts, their dreams, their fears, all pass from shadow to light to shadow and the world moves on to a sunnier clime.   As Steven Den Beste has noted, blogging is really like the vanity press:  you publish things just for your own sake, to clarify your thoughts or just to have a record of some (to you) particularly lucid insight. You post and no one cares.

One can publish anything one likes, deep secrets, terrible truths, profound wisdom, and (provided one keeps one's illusions intact) one can believe that it is being read and thought upon by many others.

As noted, the wise blogger realizes that out of the many hundreds of thousands of (non-spam) blogs, the chance is remote indeed that anyone will ever encounter his or her thoughts, but the illusion is a powerful one. Maybe someday, one thinks. Or maybe even now.

Then one day, you see that you actually have comments on one of your posts.   It's kind of exciting--that was one you were pretty proud of, too; you put a lot of thought into it and figured you had made a good, solid point.  And it looks like you connected with someone!   Finally! Someone out there has read, and has understood! I have made contact! My ideas have merit, that essay I slaved over is appreciated! I am not alone!   So you go to view comments.  The heart quickens. 

Until the comment ("You have a great website! I may add it to my links! Incidently, I have a great page on do-it-yourself tuba-repair for android shut-ins!") is read, of course. 

It's spam.

Is it any wonder that spam in any form is so hated?   It has the appearance of communication but it's false, like the lure on an anglerfish.  Someone pokes at that lure ("Click here!") and the anglerfish's powerful jaws snap shut.  This is, ultimately, the fault of the computer age in which we find ourselves. New circumstances bring new and improved predators. It's evolution. It is, what life is.  For every innovation, for every niche filled, someone sees a way to exploit that innovation or to ease alongside that niche.  

Years ago I read a novel by Robert Sheckley in which a man was accidentally removed from Earth and taken to a distant planet.  Since he was a new phenomenon, evolution immediately set about building a new predator that was designed solely for the man.  

We find ourselves in similar circumstances.   A new technology appears, someone figures out a way to use that for advertisements.  Telephones, e-mail, ads on webpages, spyware, cell phones.  If it hasn't happened already as I write this (late 2005), I imagine online games will be the next target.  

Why does spam cause such acrimony, more so than any other form of advertising?  I think the reason spam has such a negative aura is, not only is it unwanted and useless, but it provides nothing in return for its existence.

Allow me to explain. Advertising has always been with us, probably since the dawn of time, and certainly since the industrial revolution. But even a cursory glance at modern marketing will show that there has been a great deal of give and take from advertisers.

Advertisers buy space in newspapers and magazines, thus defraying the costs of printing and publishing and allowing us, the consumers, to purchase "Tales That Witness Banal Misunderstandings" (or the fabled Whatever) at a far less arduous cost, thus allowing the producers of the contents to, in essence, have a career.

Similarly, television commercials help to pay for the production of programs transmitted. Many shows in the early years of television were actually named after their "sponsors," so that you had the U.S.Steel Hour, and the Colgate Parade of Drama, or other, less fictitious programs.

Decades later, programs would open with the news that, eg, "Bewitched" was sponsored by Kellogg's, and you could then be sure that you'd witness a commercial or two for Kellogg's products.  Even product placement in movies is paid for.   When the hero drinks a Diet Coke, you can be sure the Coca-Cola company paid for that.

(In the early days of radio, the stars of radio programs would give the advertisements themselves. Jack Benny would talk about how his eyesight was restored by whatever coffee company was paying his wages...or something similar to that. What am I, Google?)

My long-winded point? Just this--while no one liked commercials, the commercials helped to pay for the entertainment they interrupted. We couldn't have one without the other. Otherwise, the other would be prohibitively expensive.

Spam emails don't do anything like that. They don't make the internet less expensive. They don't pay for Chris Onstad or James Lileks to do what they do best. They don't even pay us if we do what they ask. They just show up and block our legitimate interests with their clinging, vampirous embraces.

They're worse than door-to-door salesmen. At least they had to pay for gas, food and lodging. Spam pays for nothing, to no one. There's no infrastructure at all.  You can walk into a public library, sign up for a hotmail account, and bang, you are done.  Cost to you:  shoe leather and some calories.  Cost to everyone else:  grief and depression.  Is it any wonder spammers are hated?

Come on, spammers. Pay for something. Make Microsoft Office only $25 dollars because YOU pay the rest. Make Adobe products only $30 dollars. THEN, you might earn some respect and, even more important, some sales.

Do I hear the ringing of deaf ears? I thought so. I feared so. Oh well.

At least it answers one question, which is why vampire films are so popular these days. There's so much inspiration.

August 21, 2005 - revised October 29, 2005


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