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36

Spam, Where Art Thou?

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A couple of weeks ago I posted a message on a CEO bulletin board asking for e-mail marketing success stories. Yesterday I received a message from a CEO asking me if I had received his earlier message touting the company's strategy for avoiding spam filters. I hadn't seen the e-mail. Unless you're living completely irony-free these days, I assume I don't have to spell out why not.

Inc.'s parent company, Mansueto Ventures, installed an industrial strength spam filter a month or so back, which enhances staff productivity by quietly hoovering up anything that might distract us or offend our delicate sensibilities. Of course we had a spam filter before, but it was porous in a delightfully serendipitous fashion: leaving us to scratch our heads over why erectile enhancement ads made it through, while erectile dysfunction ads were barred at the door. (I have just discovered that Microsoft's spell check function does not consider "erectile" a word. Interesting'¶.) This new filter, by contrast, is very efficient; cleansing my inbox of undesirables and dumping them all in spam ghetto, from whence I receive reports several times a week. Occasionally I find something like my CEO's note has become accidentally trapped, and I release it like a dolphin from tuna nets. Generally, though, I just scan the subject lines. The sheer volume of coarse come-ons, unleavened by less-provocative missives from friends and business contacts, makes me mildly queasy. It's a bit like tugging a hair clog from the shower drain at the end of the week.

I confess I miss my spam. I like to ease into my work day by sitting down at the PC and whacking away a few low-hanging fruit. Deleting messages titled "Re: Your pharmacy order #390842083;" "Your assistance is needed;" or, perhaps most provocatively, "S&WE&2789ueruu" took only a few seconds and required virtually no brainpower. Yet I felt as though I was accomplishing something: sweeping clean the stoop of my day. No comparable amuse bouche now exists between me and the heavy meal of actual labor. In addition, whenever I'm alerted to the arrival of a new message, I know it's probably something I'll need to deal with. Gone is that pleasurably sense of dodging a bullet: "Phew, it's just junk. Nobody wants something this minute. I haven't screwed anything up."

Mind you, this is no invitation to send me junk mail or a dare to try and circumvent our filter. Just a bit of nostalgia for wilder times past. Times Square is a brighter, safer, more profitable place since Guiliani cleaned it up. But we can still miss the sleaze that gave it character.

Last updated: Nov 9, 2007

LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.
@LeighEBuchanan




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