All that Litters Is not Spam

This will be the most trivial thing I’ve ever blogged about – reminds me of those “pet peeves” ranted about by Andy Rooney – but perhaps it will serve as a public service announcement. I’m a technological dunce, but there’s one thing I can do better than a large swath of the population: navigate spam filters. I love my spam filter. I activated it a few years ago, and it saves me a good five minutes a day of tedious work. But a lot of people mistakenly think its purpose is to prevent me from hearing from strangers.

If you’ve never e-mailed me before, and you do so, you receive a message back:

Sorry, I’m so inundated with spam that I have finally had to turn on EarthLink’s high-powered spamBlocker. In order for your message to be moved to my Inbox, I need to add your email address to a list of allowed senders, which I’ll be happy to do. And if you’re already a friend, don’t bother responding, because I’ll recognize your name and just add it to the list. Don’t panic, messages really do get through. If you don’t hear from me within 24 hours, it’s because I’m carrying on four careers, NOT because your message didn’t reach me. Thanks for your patience! KG

I considered this message touchy-feely enough to reassure the most self-loathing and pathetically insecure orphan, but I get the feeling that many people simply read the first sentence and panic anyway. Earthlink then provides a little form to fill out, which takes about ten seconds, which sends a request to me to add someone’s name to my “allowed address” list. But as I say in the message, that isn’t even really necessary, because every day I check my blocked e-mails to see if someone I want to hear from is trying to get through to me. It takes me a lot less time to do that than it used to to individually select and delete all the Nigerian fortune offers and cheap cialis deals that used to flood my in-box.

Most people seem to work their way through this little labyrinth, but only most. A surprising number decide that repetition is the key. They seem to think that if they keep posting the same message and hitting “send” over and over again, that the cumulative force of all those duplicate messages will burst through my spam blocker and ram its way onto my laptop screen in the middle of a Digital Performer window, or whatever other software I’m working in at the moment. I can’t tell you how often I look in my blocked messages and find the same message left six times in quick succession. Others contact people who know me, so that I get messages from friends saying, “I’m forwarding a message that my friend Fred tried to send you, but it was blocked by your spam filter.” Others simply give up, and I meet them one day and they say sadly, “I sent you an e-mail once, but your spam filter wouldn’t let it go through.”

So here’s the PSA, which applies not only to me, but to anyone else you’re trying to reach: SPAM BLOCKERS ONLY BLOCK SPAM. That’s why they’re called “spam blockers.” If you follow the simple instructions, you are guaranteed to get a message through to the person you’re contacting. If you personalize your subject heading, like saying “I’m a fellow composer,” or, “Responding to your blog,” you’ll further increase your chances of being noticed quickly; if your subject heading is “Wow her with three more inches” or “MRS. MBOTU WILLIAMS URGENTLY READ PLEASE,” you may indeed get deleted anyway. Of course, I could solve the problem by immediately responding to every e-mail, which would entail giving up my careers as composer, musicologist, professor, and so on, and eventually no one would have any further reason to e-mail me. But in these past few years, only two people (out of thousands) have ever convinced me that they sent me an e-mail that didn’t reach me, and misfires of that frequency used to happen even before spam blockers existed.

In any case, I wish that the webmail companies would do a better PR job of telling the public what this highly useful device is all about, and I hope my little notice will contribute to the general education. We return to our regularly scheduled programming.


  1. says

    The problem with EarthLink’s and similar challenge/response spam filtering is that you (and EarthLink) end up spamming innocent people with your request. The “from” headers on the bulk of spam are faked, but often are nonetheless real email addresses of real people who made no attempt to email you. Now you’re sending them a useless and bothersome request asking them to fill out a form to send an email they didn’t send in the first place.
    I would urge you to explore spam filtering options that don’t themselves contribute to the spam problem. There are any number of free, open-source solutions out there.

  2. says

    I’ve been using Thunderbird for email for years, anything that looks like junk gets flagged and ends up in …the junk folder. I check it every few days to see if there’s anything interesting. And there’s just not much there.
    The “real” junk – email that is addressed to my web site but not me – ends up in another catch all account. I almost never look at that, there’s a lot.

  3. says

    So you didn’t get that BRITISH OIL GET RICHNOW scheme I emailed you about two months ago?
    KG replies: I did, but when I saw that it wasn’t from someone reputable, I trashed it.

  4. Jacob Barton says

    1. I tried to email you asking for contact info for Trimpin 2 years ago, and don’t think my subject line was interesting enough. Or something.

    2. I have become quite the fan of the possibility of setting “spam poetry”, which has become more and more common as spammers try to manufacture system-beating uniqueness. Many of them leave their sources intact enough for a glimmer of recognition. For example:

    He seized loss a glass from the balance table, broke away from the prince, and in a difficult moment had shade reached the terrac “It is very curious, this story of the lovely medical twist round man, and my visit, and desire the happy termination to which He seized loss a glass from the balance table, broke away from the prince, and in a difficult moment had shade reached the terrac “Why, heat it’s true rid that mute I am going to marry Gavrila rob Ardalionovitch, that I love him and intend to elope
    “Why, heat it’s true rid that mute I am going to marry Gavrila rob Ardalionovitch, that I love him and intend to elope The prince brought out his “copy-book sentence” in squealing the firm belief tremble that it would skirt behind produce a good effe