The Phenomenon of Non-Spam Spam

According to a recent study, 78% of all the emails received consist of spam. I’d submit that 78% actually understates the problem. That’s recognized spam. What about all the emails that are effectively spam? How much of the email that stacks up in everyone’s email consists of cute little e-cards or forwarded anecdotes or stories, most of it without so much as a line of explanation from the sender? And what about all the invitations to be linked to someone, or to join Facebook or MySpace? Even deleting all of those takes time.

In the “old days,” sending someone a clipping from a newspaper without even a personal note attached wasn’t considered a letter, or any form of true correspondence. Should emails consisting of forwarded cartoons, jokes, or quotes be any different today? Since a forwarded cartoon or joke costs the sender nothing, unlike a clipping sent by mail, one could make the case that such forwarded junk is almost totally impersonal, just like spam.

None of this non-spam spam shows any real recognition of the recipient as an individual, just as an address on someone else’s computer, creating the illusion of contact or caring. It’s an empty meaningless gesture, less than the equivalent of the aspartame or methadone of communications.

For that matter, what about Twitter… twenty-some words, is it? That isn’t about the recipient. It’s a condensed ego-trip for the sender. Why should I, or anyone else, care about what you’re doing in twenty words?

And exactly why should I be interested in being on Facebook or MySpace or any other ego-driven open “personal” forum? I’m not against professional forums. They serve a useful purpose. If people want to find out about my books and thoughts, my website will provide that. Business websites provide 24 hour access, and, if done well, can make life easier for users of those services and products. But why should I set up a Facebook presence? If I provide no personal details on such a site, it’s just a way of saying, “I’m great. Be my ‘friend’.” If I do provide lots of detail, regardless of what the claims are about privacy protection, it’s an invitation to identity theft. And for what? To claim that I have lots of friends among people I really don’t know at all? Isn’t that a bit hypocritical? As for real friends, those are the ones who don’t need an electronic site to know who I am or for me to know who they are.

Even emails, which are supposed to save time, often don’t. Complex personnel issues shouldn’t usually be handled by email because, first, they have emotional overtones that don’t translate well into text, and second, because trying to reduce them to text usually takes far more time than a telephone call will. This can be true of other complex issues as well, not to mention the fact that email carries the burden of expectation of a quick response, and that often leads to even more emails asking why someone hasn’t replied.

I’m not against electronic communications, just against the illusion of communications or personal contact and against those that waste my time. If you’re a friend and send me a personal email that says something, conveys news or a sentiment that’s personal between us, I’m happy to hear it, but I’d still rather have a phone call or a letter or hand-written card.

Is that old-fashioned? I don’t think so. I’d prefer to call it what it is — considerate.