Emotional Spam

Oh, c'mon! You've done it! At least once! You were brand new to email and completely jazzed about how easy it seemed. You were anxious to practice. The funny joke that "slayed 'em" at the office was neatly pasted into your unsent email message. Your finger hesitated over the mouse button after you put the pointer squarely on "Send". The good angel on your right shoulder whispered "Maybe the 50 friends you just stuffed into the 'To' box won't think it's funny
and will be annoyed." The bad angel on your left shoulder counters with: "They're gonna think you're hysterical and they'll pass it on to everyone they know after asking you where you get such great jokes!" Bad angel wins. Your finger slams down confidently on the send button, the message disappears from your screen, racing to everyone in your address book (except Mom because the joke was a tad dirty). You then sat back in your chair -quite self-satisfied. Indeed, you are officially a "Spammer."

The original term "Spam" came from a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch in which a customer in a restaurant asks what's on the menu. The waitress tells him, "Well, there's egg and bacon; egg, sausage, and bacon; egg and Spam; egg, bacon, and Spam; egg, bacon, sausage, Spam; Spam, bacon, Spam... " (and so on). Then a chorus of Vikings begins chanting "Spam, Spam, Spam; lovely Spam, wonderful Spam." The first Internet use of the word originated in Internet chat rooms and on multiplayer Internet adventure games. According to Jennifer Smith, author of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list, "a few delinquents would 'say' the same message again and again in a chat room, filling the screen in the process, and other people would call these messages 'Spam.' It was just like the song in the Monty Python skit -senseless repetition. From flooding someone's screen with repeated words to flooding someone's mailbox or a newsgroup with repeated messages seemed to be a natural extension of the concept."

When it comes to friends that Spam with email "funnies," an email reputation is quickly earned. A few of my friends rarely send "jokes" but when they do it's 90 percent funny 90 percent of the time because they are sending it specifically to me after putting some actual thought into whether I would enjoy it or not. Then there are friends that automatically spam every joke-of-the-day to everyone they know every day. It's these people I've stuck a bulls-eye on for this week's column.

FWD (Forwards) from friends have become a main source of my personal Spam woes. Before I vent, let me say that I consider any email that contains a personal message specifically for me exempt from the term "Spam." On the other hand, if I had a nickel for every impersonal, friend-sent FWD I got, I could afford a nice vacation -for a couple of months. But I'd bet nearly everyone has been guilty of forwarding something he or she thought was "funny" at some point. Yes, even Yours Truly -but I've e-matured so I kicked spamming and have been clean for 3-4 years now... Thanks -thanks very much.

An email FWD triggers in me a horrible emotional roller coaster. That's what I find most draining. For example: Let's say the name of a dear old friend pops into my Inbox. My face lights up, my pulse quickens, I smile, my hand reaches for the mouse and I gleefully double-click the message. I'm greeted with a subject of ">>>>>FWD: 99 ways to know if you're from the south -pass it on." My smile fades. My shoulders droop. What a bummer. It's just a forward. But wait! Perhaps there's hope! Maybe my friend inserted a personal line or two just for me at the beginning of the message! My face brightens again. I eagerly lean toward the screen as I find new energy to scour every line of the message. Nothing. All I see is > > > at the beginning of every line and thousands of email addresses of people I don't know. Now I feel worse. If each FWD brings two levels of hope and two levels of despair, how exhausting is that? Oversensitive, you call me? Maybe. But I'm trying to work here and this Spam is just playing with my emotions!

How do you tell a friend that their unsolicited email (Spam) messages annoy you without hurting his or her feelings? There is no easy way. You always risk offending someone who had good intentions who thought they were brightening your day. The most effective non-confrontational method I've found for handling Spam from friends while tip-toeing on the eggshells of their email-egos is this: Next time you get a FWD message wait about an hour then call the sender. Make small talk for a moment or two then loudly, angrily, (and profanely -if that's your preferred communication flavor) express your rage for a dumb joke that just hit your Inbox from _____ (make up a name). Vent like crazy for about 20-30 seconds. Throw in a few choice phrases like "Inbox polluter" and "Doesn't s/he ever work?" Tell your friend there are many other email messages you haven't read yet so you better go get to them. That should do it. There's a good chance that next time your friend's good angel will win.

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