Thirty Thousand Streets

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Now me and the interweb are friends electric, I almost don't know how
I survived without email, but one thing that has always wound me up
ever since I got a crappy Hotmail account back in 1999 or whenever it
was, are annoying round-robin type messages that people infect
everyone on their address list with like a giant web bound sneeze.
They say there's no cure for the common cold, and the same might be
said of this 'friendly' Spam or FRAM (I just made that up) which still rocks up in my inbox to this day, despite my having excommunicated even casual acquaintances for less.

The first, most obvious—and slightly less noxious—form this takes is:
'the funny forwarded email', which, based my personal knowledge, is a fixture of slow Friday afternoons in offices all over. This could consist of an 'amusing picture' – a jpeg of a wet cat with
the legend 'where's my coffee' for instance; or a joke, littered with
exclamation marks to remind you that this is a joke that considers itself funny.

Rest assured though, whatever form it takes it will have no style, and
practically no substance. Annoying maybe, but relatively inoffensive,
the experience is certainly no worse than being cornered and talked at
by a loud bore in a Simpsons waistcoat.

But vastly, exponentially worse than these, are those emails that find
their way to you, and actually function to perpetuate themselves – by inviting you to forward and spawn them anew.

Typically they take the form of a list or petition, which after
pleading it's case, urge you yourself to become a signatory, before
infecting your friends. There are a few main types, which I'll
briefly run through, so you can diagnose the symptoms early.

1. The Freebie

This has kind of died off somewhat recently, mostly because people are
getting hep to it, but the survivor still pings round cyberspace like a dodo in Manhattan. This basically consists of an offer, usually centred around a rich, remote, and suddenly,
unexpectedly eccentric Billionaire such as Bill Gates, or a
corporation (Microsoft will do nicely here) who are willing to give
away loads of free stuff.. if (sigh) you help them expand their
database. Here's an example:

"(insert corporation here) are looking to expand their client database, and to do this are offering free (insert expensive fetish here) to anyone will help them. Simply forward this to ten of your friends and within one month (insert corporation here) will contact you for details of how to receive your free (insert expensive fetish here)"

Some of them even have a little bit proclaiming its authenticity:

"Guys this is true i didnt believe at first but my aunt works for (insert corporation here) and she told me its true they really are doing it and I did it and now ive got (insert expensive fetish here) coming out my ass"

I've seen it with loads of things. Sony Ericcson handsets, the
aforementioned software giant, even Champagne house Pieper &
Heidseck, were, unaccountably, willing to part with crates of the good stuff, for those all important email addresses, so essential to the continued prosperity of luxury super-brands.

There are a few glaringly obvious problems with the logic behind this,
which I'm sure you could fathom out but I'll bore you with anyway.

A: I've heard of companies selling customer lists and information to each other.. and I guess this is fairly standard practice.. which implies that this information does have some kind of value. But that was surely for direct mail. What's an email worth? Not a right lot, and my spam filter seems to be pretty good at keeping out unsolicited crap (though the odd bit hawking Viagra does manage to slip beneath the radar using random bits of text spliced together into weird nonsense poems that are oddly compelling to read). No. I firmly suspect that an email address isn't worth all that much, and certainly not a top of the range mobile, which neatly segues into point..

B: Namely, of what earthly value is an customer's email address as a marketing tool if you're just going to give them what you're trying to sell them, duh..
Finally and most obviously..

C: The so called 'tracking' of these circulars, as they do the conga round cyberspace. Now I ain't exactly what you'd call a 'web guru' (I got about two centimetres into a doorstop book on HTML) and correct me if I'm wrong, but there is absolutely nothing in a bog-standard email that will allow a third party to track it, and if corporations did have the ability to stare into people's inboxes like the eye-of-Sauron (endlessly scouring the internet for the 'one client database to bind them all') I reiterate again.. why would they want to pay you (or I) for it, braniac.

What irritates me most about getting forwarded this crap of course, is that they are occassionally sent to me by acquaintances, who are, by and large, a pretty astute bunch of people. But the minute people see 'Free', baser, more covetous drives kick into motion, and they hit send anyway.

Which is sort of fair enough, as it costs you nothing to do, but on the evidence presented thus far, I think it's fair to say it never works.

2. The Happy Clapper

This is basically a hippy-dippy email that sounds like it was written by someone cross-eyed who owns whale song CD's and really likes 'crafts'. It'll probably start with something along the lines of:

"If you're feeling down at the minute, then just take a moment to remember..."

And then descends into a morass of pseudo-philosophical meta-guff. It might make some relatively valid points regarding relative prosperity etc. which could probably be paraphrased to "cheer up you miserable git" without resorting to the limp spirituality it dangles in front of you like a dreamcatcher.

And of course, when you reach the bottom, they exhort you to forward it on to your friends, to 'spread the love'.. Which is fine.. but half the time it contains some vague promise of imminent good fortune if you continue the chain. One example I saw even promising rewards on a kind of commission basis, a good luck bonus package directly liked to performance (performance being how many other saps you send this to). This of course steers the previously bucolic tone of the message into altogether darker darker waters, for having reassured you that actually, things aint all that bad, it then asks: "but do you feel lucky, punk?". Can you afford to turn down the rich rewards on offer here? Actually, yoghurt-weaver (or whoever penned this) yes I can. Now go play in the road.

3. The Charity Blackmail

Now this is probably the worst of the bunch. Wheras the 'Happy Clapper' uses superstition as the fulcrum of its call to action, the 'Charity Blackmail' tries to get under the bonnet of your concscience to engineer its proliferation. Basically this will be a circular, email, petition, whatever, that puports to be for a charitable cause. I say puports because I have a hard time believing a reputable charity would waste its time misrepresenting itself like this. Charities generally rely upon the receptivity, generosity and goodwill of would be donators, which might be compromised by doing a Sharon Osbourne and posting them these digital turds.

The premise of one I received years back was supposedly from a mother and father whose child was suffering from some terminal illness. Apparently a corporation (again, rich and eccentric) was offering to sponsor a chain email, wherein every 10 or so signatories when garner the cause a further hundred bucks or so.

There was a stock library photo of a tiny baby with, somewhat ingongruously, a blue ribbon wrapped around it—this presumably to vibrate the heartstrings—though speared on a stork's beak might have been more fitting, given the piece's morbid quality.

Apart from the fact that the whole thing seemed as hooky as Louis Vuitton gear at the Elephant and Castle Market, the fact that its opening gambit was:

"If you don't read and just delete this email then you have no heart"

Prejudiced me against it from the get-go. If I'd had a gun on me then I'd have whipped it out and blasted the screen to a smoking wreck.. instead I consigned the message to the trash then emptied that.

If you want someone to act upon a moral principle, then calling into question their moral certitude as an initial premise is, at least as far as I'm questioned, not a good way to go about it. This did not so much prick my conscience as stab it, and it in fact rather made me feel like ringing up George W and going and running over some gay baby seals in a Hummer*.

Even then I did have some vague doubt as to the authenticity of the thing, but no, two years later I saw a slightly different version of the same thing, only it had mutated slightly (or evolved, who knows). The same stock image, but a different sob story.

I generally delete anything like this on sight, but when one popped into my inbox the other I flicked through it out of curiosity. It was, allegedly and here I quote, a: "petition for drink driving" (huh?)

It consisted of a pretty awful bit of poetry that might have been written by a Vogon it was so terrifyingly bad, and set in alternating lines of lurid green and purple type to boot. It inevitably concluded with:

"If you receive this petition and do nothing but delete it, your selfishness knows no bounds."

And I wouldn't have expected anything less.

Wierdly enough though, it had an actual address on it, and looking on the internet there is actually a charity of the same name.. but at the same time, nowhere in the email is there contained any hint of what the petition was supposedly intended to achieve. Is it simply signalling moral opposition to the principle of drink driving? or some grander form of magic? perhaps if enough people sign it the concensus of mankind's collective unconscious will turn the hinges of the world and cause drink driving to simply cease to exist.

Whatever. Another hoax I suspect. But it does beg the question.. who creates these things anyway? and why exactly?

What I do find oddly creepy them is that people do actually breed them to some extent. When writing them their creator is essentially devising a formula, that when fed into the internet to flock about, will either prosper and swell, or perish alone in some binary cul-de-sac. Some will be more more successful presumably, some less so. When one of these things pops up in your inbox it is arguing for its life, and by extension pleading for the lives of its children, and children's children.. Which is why so many of them set the moral fighteners on you as an opening salvo. "Feed me" they whisper "or else".

One thing they can't do is fess up and admit to being junk, or else they are so much roadkill on the information super-highway. In "The Sirens of Mars", the prescient Phillip K Dick imagined a future earth where one of the embodiments of commericialism are mobile gnat-sized advertisements that can fly anywhere (your flat, car etc) to hide and broadcast their banal message at you like a broken record. What is hugely amusing is that everyone detests them, and takes great pleasure in swatting them down.

In much the same way, when I encounter one of these messages quivering in my gmail inbox, accusing me of selfishness in shrill hysterical tones, I take great delight in crushing them beneath my heel as a form of pest control.

What is of course slightly odd is that unlike scams (lotteries you were never aware you'd entered in Argentina, African businesses desirous of overseas bank accounts, advertising etc.) they don't seem seem to owe their existence to any immediately obvious mode of fraud (unless it be far more subtle than I can see). There doesn't seem to be any real reason for these things existence.. they just, well, are.

I wonder if there's a 'scene' which people who create these little informational anomolies associate themselves with. A hardore group of data farmers whose principal shibboleth is scripting the dna of these curious little viruses. Do they have competitions? shows? A digital Crufts where their creations are paraded around for approval? I think I would actually be quite pleased if that was the case, though sadly, I doubt it.

And who are the chefs, responsible for all these recipes of spam? I suspect it's just kids, or very, very bored, very annoying people, of whom there have been no shortage of since time immemorial. It is of course this is just a modern incarnation of the 'Chain Letter', which like most things has moved online now.

But, friends, I'm going to take a stand here, and if anyone's thinking of forwarding me any of this dreck, please be aware the Eyechild aint go no love for no junk email, and I pity the fool that runs up in my inbox, because it won't be leaving again.

*I'm JOKING (some of my best friends are seals).


sigh9 said...

just wanted to remind you that Jesus loves you and that if you delete this comment then your selfishness knows no boun...AH CRAP - IT'S IN MY HEAD!!

gridrunner said...

Well said, Eyechild. I get far too much of this crap from friends and family alike.

“Please stop sending me this crap or I'll be forced to reconsider our relationship.”

Assuming you get past the subject line, the huge magenta Comic Sans is usually the first clue that it's a load of utter catshit. Or perhaps there's a Powerpoint attachment that RUNS FULL SCREEN – Yeah, thanks for that. Yeah, the slide with fat man who’d pissed himself - hoo hoo – that was great. At work.

The Eyechild said...

Sigh: Yeah, I think that's what I find bothersome about the idea of cyberpunk..

G: Yeah, I think people need to pause for a minute and consider: 'is this good?'. If there's even the vaguest hint of doubt creeping in, then delete at once.

Anonymous said...

I googled dazzle painted ships and ended up with a rant about chain mail. Nice. :)