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Spam offers a smorgasbord of entertainment

April 22, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

My job description is pretty simple: Spend six hours a week writing columns and 32 hours a week deleting spam.

Even the 42 percent of people who do not spend any time online have heard of spam by now, because spam has overtaken second-hand smoke as tops on the baby boomers' omnipresent whineometer.

Half the country is overburdened by spam. The other half is overburdened by people complaining about spam.

Spam is basically e-junk-mail. Spam clogs home e-mail boxes. It costs American businesses $12 billion a year in lost productivity. At least 230 deaths each month are directly attributable to spam. Everyone hates it.

Except, of course, me.

Anything this disruptive and causing this much anguish has to be good, in my opinion. I get hours of entertainment out of spam. Just for the fun of it, I set up an e-mail filter to capture and send to a special folder every message containing the word "free." In two weeks, it snagged 835 spams. Here's a sampling:


Free coffee maker, free music, free digital camera, free Scooby-Doo gifts, free money for college, free vitamin sample, free handheld organizer, free Pasta Pro, free business cards, free cellulite removal, free airline tickets, free $25 Kmart gift card, free PDA, free money from the government, free weight loss, free alcohol breath tester, free spy gear, free cable TV, free doctor consultations, free gas, free vacation, free TV, free dates, free cell phone, free glucose meter, free software, free Martha Stewart afternoon tea gift basket, free "Girls Gone Wild" DVD and free Tibet.

None of those piqued my interest enough to respond. However, if they'd offered a "Martha Stewart Gone Wild" DVD, it might have been a different story.

Not everything is free. Since, spam tells us, "Death begins with an unclean colon," we are offered a 30-day colon cleansing program for $51.50. Obviously you cannot just go around giving away colon-cleansing products, nor can you give away "Surgery-free face-lifts," an $80 cream that reduces wrinkles by 47 percent in just 28 days - that's two days before your colon clears up, but 18 days more than it takes to learn Swahili using the Pimsleur Approach.

If spammers know their audience, Americans as a group must be pretty dissatisfied with themselves. There are all sorts of offers to shrink some parts of you and enlarge other parts. It makes me think our problem may not be obesity, but distribution.

There are cures for diseases I didn't even know existed: "Heal Nail Fungus in days with FungX." And you know it works because there is a picture of a doctor studying a test tube. Can't get any better verification than that. And there's an anti-aging cream advertised under the banner "What the celebrities do NOT want you to know." I secretly have been suspicious that Tom Cruise sits up nights worrying about whether or not I look my age, and this confirms it.

There's kind of an interesting symmetry to spam that I find interesting. For example, the "smoking cessation" and "discount tobacco" spams are running about neck and neck. And in the same day, I got two spams, one saying "Become a Certified Marriage Counselor!" and the other saying "I am ready to cheat on my husband!" In an attempt to be helpful, I forwarded the marriage counselor message to the cheating wife's address. But it bounced.

I'm on the mailing list for Iceland Air, but the interesting part is that they seem to think I speak Icelandese, so I get offers like this: "18 - 22. aprl Ver> fr 46.720,- mann tvbli Innifali>: flug, flugvallarskattar og gisting 4 ntur Radisson Hotel at Cross Keys."

Having not taken the Pimsleur Approach for any Scandinavian languages, I can't translate this exactly, but I think it says that Iceland is ready to cheat on its wife.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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