Non Spam Spam

Turn the wayback machine to about 1992. During an unreasonably short period of time, just a few months really, the internet exploded. It went from the swamps of dial up bulletin boards and Oak e-mail systems, a steamy jungle of basement nerds and college computer science kids setting up dorm room servers, to a consumer “appliance”.

It happened outrageously quickly. Automobiles over horses, electric lights over oil lamps, Gutenberg press over illuminated manuscript, from my reading of history none of those seemed to phase in quite like the juggernaut of Americans with 486 computers and AOL floppies.

It was about then that I started getting spam. Obnoxious shit on-line was nothing new but spam, at that juncture in time, could have developed along many possible paths. Observing this I had one simple question:

“Why is there no spam for things a normal human might actually buy?”

At the dawn of the mass market internet I saw spam as nothing more than hideous billboards on the digital scenery and nobody goes through the hassle of creating a billboard unless they’re selling something you might buy. Yet spam shoveling dickheads were illogically trying to entice me to buy… to buy what? Gadgets that magically violate the laws of thermodynamics to double my car’s MPG (it was the nineties)? V1agra? Russian brides?

Really? Why?

All along I’ve wondered why there isn’t spam for goods and services a normal sentient adult human might actually purchase. Maybe something that’s small and easily shippable? Maybe something dull and uninteresting? Something that people actually need. Spark plugs? Fishing lures? Slippers? Screwdrivers? Hell, why haven’t I received spam that tried to sell me Spam?

It’s been like that forever. Spam never tried to sell me a damn thing I’d buy (or really anything any reasonable human would buy). By now it’s white noise and very little spam gets through my filters (which are set on “merciless” and do a decent job of it).

Last week some spam got through. What was it selling?

Toilet paper!

No kidding. I felt happy, vindicated, at peace with the world. It was a link to a place selling big rolls of toilet paper like you’d find in a truck stop shitter but if you’re really into buying bulk, at least it’s a product we all need and use. Finally I’d received spam for something a normal human would buy! For no clear reason, this made me happy.

Then I flagged it as spam, deleted it, burned it, and salted the earth where the ashes were buried. Because, duh! Spam.

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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13 Responses to Non Spam Spam

  1. Joel says:

    The spam I regularly clean out of my inbox’s spam gulag always perplexes me. Most of it doesn’t even seem to be selling anything, it’s just a sentence cobbled together by an illiterate robot and a link I’d rather shoot my own computer than click. And I get them by the dozens. It is a puzzlement.

  2. s says:

    Short version: competition. Longer version: economics.

    If the product is real and there are willing buyers, there are always willing sellers. Your firewood saga puzzled me a bit (similar to my own experience) but I eventually figured that one out.

    Spammers can’t compete with honest businesses, some of whom are actually pretty good at selling stuff to people who want it. Honest businesses don’t need to annoy 1 million people with offensive ads to make one sale; they have better, much more targeted means of finding customers. OK, maybe their ads reach 1,000 or even 10,000 non-interested people per sale, but they are still far below what is considered a good spam hit ratio.

    So spam serves that niche of the market that is otherwise unserved. Products that aren’t advertised and often can’t be promoted because they break government laws or violate the rules of physics. Products that people are ashamed of wanting but still desire.

    While the marginal cost of sending a particular spam message is nearly zero, spam costs plenty. Time, machines, hackers/programmers, access to lists of email address, it adds up. One hundred million messages at $0.0001 dollars each is still money. Spam only survives because there is enough revenue generated by the occasional sale (or hope of a sale by shady/uninformed/naive entrepreneurs) to pay the spammers.

    Joel gets those links precisely because modern spam filters work pretty well. If they put in any of the words that actually describe the product, it would go straight to trash. Spam has evolved along with the spam filters. Now the only people who click the links are either hopelessly stupid (and easily parted from money) or secretly desperate for something they don’t dare type into a search engine.

    Think of spam as pathogens that continuously test your computer’s immune system. Both systems evolve in response to the other. Without spam to train us and the people who program our spam filters we’d be all the more vulnerable to even worse forms of abuse.

  3. Timbotoo says:

    I looooved my 486. (Sighs, wipes away a tear). Still miss it.

  4. Robert says:

    I pulled my 486 out of storage recently to see if it would boot. Ended up wasting a couple of hours… playing that DOS game with the two gorillas throwing explosive bananas. A good time was had by all. It amazes me how something so crudely drawn and simple of plot can be so entertaining. I think it means I’m simple. Or something neurologically profound. And I ate SPAM this morning as practice for TEOTWAWKI; it was disgusting. I’d rather eat a zombie.

  5. Robert says:

    AC, betcha that old 486 has a DB25 serial port that can talk to an old Kantronics(?) TNC, letting you monitor APRS for cheap. Stick a transmitter and gps in the truck and your wife can see that you actually did go where you said you went…

  6. Steve says:

    A lot of spam today isn’t to sell anything, just to get executed on your computer. Once executed, it installs trojans/backdoors, and then does whatever the controller desires. Steal login IDs, Credit Cards, Encrypt your drive, turn your computer into a DDos Zombie, etc.

    A very good reason to run Adblock, Noscript, Ghostery, etc in your blogger. I’ll note, Banner Ads at the top of web pages will do the same thing. Currently, there is an unpatched hole in flash that downloads out of a Banner Ad, and infects your computer with ransomware.

  7. Steve says:

    sorry, browser, not blogger.

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