The ethics of spamSeptember 24, 2012
The last few months have been pretty intense, so it’s time to turn to a lighter subject … or, rather, a subject that would have been lighter if there had been less of it. This morning, I opened my personal e-mail account to be confronted by more than 300 new messages. No, I hadn’t been out of town for a month, nor had I taken a week-long vacation in Paris or an extended trek through Nepal. In fact, I had spent a fair bit of time cleaning out my e-mail on Saturday evening, less than two days before. Those three hundred messages materialized in a scant thirty-six hours, and the vast majority of them could only be called spam.
We all get spam and no, I’m not taking about the meat-ish product in a tin that Monty Python’s Flying Circus so blithely lampooned. I’m talking about e-mail from direct marketers, sweepstakes publishers, online businesses, many no-doubt deserving charities and strangers in foreign countries who promise to send me millions of dollars if I’ll just give them my bank account number. (A word to the wise: don’t.) Many of these people really seem to believe that my life would be immeasurably improved if I only bought the latest gizmo-that-sells-for-just-$19.95-but-wait!-they’ll-send-two-for-the-price-of-one-if-I’ll-just-pay-separate-shipping-and-handling. Others once sold me something online – a book, perhaps, or a dress for my daughter – and are now convinced that my single purchase means I’ve been poised with bated breath ever since to see multiple photos of every last product they now have for sale. Might I want to buy that Art Nouveau-style, hand-enameled, monogrammed left-handed wine opener? Maybe – but you know, I probably could have found it myself online.
Truly, I’m torn on the ethics of spam. On one hand, it costs me nothing but time to delete all those unwanted e-mails, and it probably does less environmental damage for people to stuff my virtual mailbox than to cram tons of junk mail in my real one. On the other, however, the time I spend every day clearing my junk e-mail (and no spam filter in the world catches it all) could certainly have been better spent, and there’s something sadly dehumanizing about all that in-your-face advertising. If I’m really a valued customer, why are you pushing me to buy things I don’t want or need? If you appreciate my charitable contribution, why are you spending all of it to press me to give you still more money? And if your product really is the greatest thing since sliced bread, don’t you think I could figure that out for myself without being bombarded by dozens of virtual ads?
Life is sort, and spam is out of control. So, here’s a note to the spammers: I know you’re out there. I know your product, service, or worthy cause exists. You’ll get my money only if and when I decide to let you have it, and that will happen a lot sooner if you stop burying me in spam.
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