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Eat Your Heart Out, Darwin: The Evolution of Spam

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Spam email is something that has its tentacles wrapped so securely around our lives that it's barely worth mentioning anymore. In recent years I've noticed a trend taking place, and I've come to some startling conclusions that may well shake up our understanding of humanity.

Those of us who have been jacked into the web since the mid '90s (back when Hollywood movies made being on the Internet seem exactly as deviant as I just made it sound) are used to thinking of spam as a tactic whose goal has always been clear: they want to sell us things. Annoying though it was, you always knew what they were trying to do. Occasionally something that even flirted with actual cleverness would come along, such as the following message I received at Thanksgiving in 1998 (still among my favorites):

From: CATERING@stuffing.com
Date: Thu, 26 Nov 98 05:00:58 EST
To: stuffing@dinner.com
Subject: THANKSGIVING TURKEY DINNER!

SEE WHAT'S ON OUR MENU!

LARGE FIRM TENDER BREAST!

WHITE MEAT AND DARK FOR THOSE WHO PREFER!

LOTS OF HOT STUFFING!

GOT YOUR MOUTH WATERING YET??

1 FREE WEEK JUST FOR YOU TO SEE FOR YOUR EYES ONLY!

COME ON IN . WE'RE WAITING TO PLEASE YOU!

You've got to give that a few points at least for creativity.

Lately, as I am sure you have noticed, spam emails are more likely to look like this:

From: qdvkbzlsosl@yarandi.kx
Subject: else kindergarten

Mark reached into his satchell when you arrive at a1rport seccurity, and bring cookies having the property of richest telescope, who says the copious armillary spheres can't penetrate deeply into the subconscious of frog shavings. Beneath it all lies a Stacey talked and t4lked until at the light can't you see yourself at the top with a straw wheeelbarrrrows make good presents. Do what counts forward babies book nozzle pincushion salad iron radish fribblechrist!

While spam used to clearly be about selling things, nowadays it seems to be about instilling in the recipient a profound wish that his skull was open, so that he could reach up and claw directly at his brain in order to massage away the pain of having tried to read a message like this. Just what is spam like this trying to achieve? Is there a product being pitched? Has this person become completely unhinged?

Here is my theory. Starting a decade ago, as the volume of spam increased, ISPs and email programs began using software to filter it out. At first, spam filters were crude, simply blocking messages with certain suspect phrases like "penis enlargement"; this however proved disastrous when, among other incidents, Ann Coulter discovered that all of the legitimate email between herself and her doctor for an entire year had been filtered out.

So the software was made more sophisticated. Spammers figured out ways around the spam filters by making the wording of their messages more obscure and by intentionally misspelling words. In response, the engineers improved the filters further, which caused spammers to bury the meanings of their emails even deeper within increasingly confusing text… and so on. This continuing escalation has finally gotten to the point where the only thing the spammers care about is getting past the filters: it no longer matters to them if the spam contains an actual message or not. In fact, they've probably forgotten why they're spamming in the first place.

Since there are literally thousands of engineers across the world who are working to enhance and improve spam filtering, whereas a spammer is usually one individual — and since spammers are intensely unpopular people generally treated with the same social graces as a tapeworm — spammers likely spend most of their days shut up in their damp, musty homes with the shades drawn, just struggling to stay ahead in the race. Their only human contact is likely with other spammers, as they share secrets for shoving their email successfully through the system. And because they have become so psychologically enmeshed in the esoteric, indecipherable perversion of English they use in their spam emails, this is also how they have begun to communicate with each other. As a result, this mangy group has forgotten the civilized world, and has unwittingly veered away from the rest of humanity to become its own vulgar, cabalistic society.

I am dead certain that there will be a National Geographic exposé on the subject in the coming years. Observed in their natural habitat as they sit hunched over their glowing banks of computer screens, eating their typical meals of cockroaches and stale Durkee potato sticks, the spammers will gaze distrustfully at the cameraman and utter dark warnings in vaguely Anglo-Saxon gibberish that make sense only to them. It will be revealed that the spammers have come to view the sending of spam email as a primal ritual: an offering for the appeasement of their jealous twin gods, V1OXX and Ci4lis. The humans who fight spam will become their mythical devils, whispered about by the superstitious and fearful.

Next, after many years have passed, spammers will probably diverge from the human race biologically, evolving into their own species altogether. Their large, luminous eyes will become suitable only for the cold glow of an LCD screen. Pale and translucent, their veiny skin will adapt to absorb nutrients from the stale, unforgiving air of a dilapidated apartment. Their vocal chords will disappear, while their hands will develop additional fingers, allowing them to dispatch their nonsensical messages faster than ever.

When you watch this incredible documentary unfold on television, just remember: you read it here first. I do not seek fame, but merely the accolades normally due anyone who comes up with a game-changing theory like mine. Don't worry. When I stand to deliver my Nobel Prize acceptance speech, I promise not to forget all the little people — or all the little empty bottles — that got me here.

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About Andy Anonymous

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    Excellent! I laughed and I cried.

  • http://www.robot-of-the-week.com Christopher Rose

    Damn those copious armillary spheres!

  • http://spewker.blogspot.com The Spewker

    Funny! Clever! I also imagine spammers as a sub-human pox on virtual reality. Your tale of devolution struck a chord.

  • http://www.anonymousspeech.com secure email

    Spam gets even worse when you think about all the providers who have to filter all that junk. If you are running a mail website it will cost you 90% of all you CPU time just to filter all this spam.