There was a time when I really hated Spam, the canned meat product made by Hormel. I still am not a big fan of the stuff, but with time I have gained a perspective on it that makes it more palatable. It’s iconic of America, it’s still a staple of contemporary Hawaiian cooking, the yellow and blue can brings back childhood memories whenever I see it on the shelf, and really, it can be good if you make it right.
Oh, I know, some of you are saying, “Yuck—he can’t be serious.” But I am. For example, when Emma was born my brother visited us in the hospital and handed me a can of Spam and a spray can of Cheez-Whiz. He said, “Get used to it—this is all you’ll be eating for a while.” Eleanor decided to make him eat his words, literally, and kept those two cans on the shelf for a year. One day she mixed them up with some polenta and made a well-disguised appetizer that she called, “Polenta and cheese with ‘domestic pancetta‘.” My brother and my father ate ’em up (the little wedges she’d made were actually darned good on crackers), and only after the entire plate was gone did she tell them what they had actually eaten.
So Spam can be a tasty treat once in a while, and I don’t hate it. I still don’t eat it much, but I do have more of an appreciation for the stuff, and for its role in our society. Likewise, I’m gaining a small appreciation for the other type of (lower case “s”) spam, namely spam email.
In the early part of the First Decade, spam was pervasive, annoying, and even intimidating. There was fear that the unchecked volume of spam email would eventually overwhelm us all, clogging the Internet and billions of email Inboxes like an invasive species. New takes on confidence tricks like “phishing” for passwords and “advanced fee fraud” (AKA Nigerian 419 scam) were sucking in many people, who lost hundreds of millions of dollars. Like any red-blooded Internet user, I hated spam just on principle. It had to be stamped out.
Eventually, the geeks came to our rescue. Math geniuses hired by companies like Google and Microsoft worked up clever algorithms to quickly identify and divert spam to places where it can do no harm, in effect, toxic waste dumps for email. Like everyone else’s, my Google email has a Spam box where about 99% of all the spam email I receive is automatically filed. I never have to see it or sort through it. Like the prospect of global nuclear annihilation during the Cold War, spam email has faded from being a source of constant anxiety to just another one of life’s realities.
Even though I don’t have to pay attention to it anymore, I do go look once in a while. It’s a good practice, just in case a legitimate email accidentally gets mis-filed, which happens once in a long while. But mostly I look at the Spam box because it’s a great source of entertainment. When things are dull around the office, I look for interesting new variations on the advanced-fee scam, or funny announcements of various European lotteries that I have won. (I win a lot of lotteries these days.) I like the constant barrage of people who “just happened to be looking over your website and noticed you aren’t listed at the top of Google”. (So many wonderful people are looking out for me.) I’m flattered by the beautiful women in the Ukraine who are looking for husbands just like me. Just about the only thing I don’t appreciate are the many offers to “increase your manhood.” Hey, I’ll take a winning lotto ticket but just what are you implying about my love life?
In fact, it has gotten to the point that I’m now disappointed when my Spam box contains a bunch of garden-variety re-runs. Note to scammers: I’m looking for creativity. When you send me a plaintive cry from the cancerous wife of a deposed Africa dictator, I want an engaging and heartbreaking story or I’m not going to bother reading all of it it. Next time I win the “Pan-European” lottery, give me a good spiel to explain how the heck I got entered in the first place. If you want me to visit your porn site, have “Rudmilla” write me a better come-on than “I’m hot for a man like you!” And if you’re going to buy my car off Craigslist, at least have the decency to know the car’s year and model before you send me a bogus check for $2,000 more than the purchase price.
This is the next frontier for the scammer and spammers, as I see it. Like any marketer, they’ve got to try harder to get my attention, and I don’t mean by being more obnoxious. They’ve had a free ride all these years with dumb email blasts that favored quantity over quality. Now technology has given us the upper hand, and that means it is time to demand better things from our spam. Otherwise, I’m not eating it.