Like most people, I hate spam, I hate the people that send it, and I feel sorry for the poor people who get duped by it.
But I hate “snail mail” spam even more.
(This is a rant, if you haven’t already figured that out. Feel free to stop reading now 🙂 )
These days, most electronic spam is either caught by e-mail servers (such as Hotmail or the new Exchange ) or by client-side filters such as Outlook’s spam filter or the plethora of 3rd party / open source solutions. Stuff that isn’t automatically killed by the software is usually pretty easy to catch by just looking at the subject or the first few lines of the body.
But paper spam is much harder to spot. I can’t just throw away letters that look suspicious because, if I throw away the wrong ones I could really lose money, or have my driver’s license cancelled, or get fined by the IRS, or kicked out of the country, or any number of other nasty things. So I have to open each and every one of the stupid things, even though virtually all of them are complete rubbish.
People hate electronic spam because the sender never pays for the distribution or storage of the e-mail, whereas at least with paper mail the advertisers pay some nominal rate to have it delivered. But paper mail sucks up more of my time, and it wastes a large number of “real world” resources, too (paper products, petroleum products, land-fill space, etc.). I think the only useful thing it might do is subsidise the cost of postage for the rest of us.
Horrible thought: Presumably, at some point in the not-too-distant future e-mails will be recognised as “legally binding” in some sense so that you will get all your official financial information, legal information, etc. through e-mails, and it will be a crime for you to not read them. Then the spammers will have a field day, because everyone will be forced to read the junk mail just in case it has something to do with their tax return or speeding ticket or whatever. The zero-cost delivery of electronic spam with the guaranteed readership of “official” paper spam — what more could a scoundrel ask for?
Actually, I think some of the paper spammers are just as guilty of misleading people as their on-line counterparts. The other day I received a piece of mail that had in it a five dollar cheque made out to me. Being suspicious, I of course read the fine print and basically the deal was that if I cashed the cheque they would have automatically enrolled me into some perpetually useless service that I obviously didn’t need (I think it was life insurance, but I can’t remember now).
I wonder how many people thought “Wow, five dollars!” and rushed to their local bank, only to be charged tens or even hundreds of times that amount in useless fees for something they never asked for, never wanted, and were effectively duped into buying via deceptive advertising practices. If it were sent in an e-mail, they’d be sentenced to !
It’s a crying shame, I tell you.
And then of course there’s the constant steam of government-mandated spam that I get every time someone passes wind at a mutual fund my 401k happens to invest in.
(Although I do find it kind of funny — in a sad, sad, way — that the American Express sign-up forms I get sent every couple of months
look like they rolled off a 1980s typewriter… hello, proportional fonts anyone?)