We appear to be reaching a point with spam where the purpose is no longer to communicate with humans, but to avoid filtering programs. Spam aims no longer to sell; it aims to survive.
My spam filter caught a piece of mail advertising– well, I’m not sure what. But a couple things caught me about it: the subject header ("What are the washing instructions?"), the opening line ("animal era grill hecatomb ampere haynes temporal grille pokerface livermore cowpox ell"), and generally, the amount of nonsense the message contained:
When I have fears that I may cease to be, Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain.
No one ever lost his honor, except he who had it not.
You’ve got to ask! Asking is, in my opinion, the world’s most powerful — and neglected — secret to success and happiness.
Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases and its toll on success and happiness is heavy.
Learning. The kind of ignorance distinguishing the studious.
Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance.
Desire, like the atom, is explosive with creative force.
Labor is the curse of the world, and nobody can meddle with it without becoming proportionately brutified.
To give an accurate and exhaustive account of that period would need a far less brilliant pen than mine.
The thing that strikes me is that none of this has anything to do with selling anything, and I don’t think that anyone who looks at the message would think, "Gee, there’s a lot of junk information here, I think I’ll go visit the Web site!" Unless I’m terribly wrong about human nature, noise is not something that generally builds trust– though perhaps the incomprehensibility of technical manuals, and the wackily broken English of Japanese manuals from the 1970s, proves me wrong.
The irony is that the search for meaning– embodied in this case in filtering software that’s becoming increasingly sophisticated and better able at filtering signal from noise– is generating yet new forms of noise aimed at overcoming that search for meaning. There’s some kind of weird co-evolutionary thing going on here.
What would Philip Dick have made of all this, I wonder? What secret messages or hidden patterns would he have detected in this stuff?
[To the tune of Louis Armstrong, "Blue Skies," from the album Louis Armstrong And His All-Stars.]