I've been reading about spam a lot lately -- also, about SPAM, which is how Hormel capitalizes it -- because I'm writing about the origins of both for one of our upcoming books. Today, let's focus on the computer-related stuff, since that's what I'm so up in arms about these days:
In 1970, the members of Monty Python's Flying Circus came up with one of their most beloved and inadvertently prescient sketches, in which a customer in a restaurant desperately tries to order something that doesn't contain SPAM, only to find that pretty much everything on the menu features it. Also in the course of his ill-fated dinner, a nearby party of Vikings "“ hey, we did say it was Monty Python "“ breaks into song: "SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, lovely SPAM! Wonderful SPAM!" Clearly, repetition is funny. Also, and more relevant for the relationship between SPAM and email, repetition is annoying.
Apparently, the first people to make the connection between repetitive SPAM and repetitive email were enormous geeks, by which we mean to say they were players in "multi-user dungeons," or very early predecessors of games like World of Warcraft. Brad Templeton, who has done meticulous research on the topic, writes:
"The term spamming got used to apply to a few different behaviors. One was to flood the computer with too much data to crash it. Another was to "˜spam the database' by having a program create a huge number of objects, rather then creating them by hand. And the term was sometimes used to mean simply flooding a chat session with a bunch of text inserted by a program (commonly called a "˜bot' today) or just by inserting a file instead of your own real time typing output. "¦ When the ability to input a whole file to the chat system was implemented, people would annoy others by dumping the words to the Monty Python SPAM Song. "¦ Another report describes indirectly a person simply typing "˜spam, spam...' in a MUD with a keyboard macro until being thrown off around 1985."
Early spam consisted of mass invitations to parties, broad anti-war messages ("THERE IS NO WAY TO PEACE. PEACE IS THE WAY"), and appeals for college tuition funding. The classic "MAKE MONEY FAST" appeared as a USENET post in the '80s, Templeton says, but as a one-off, not a constant barrage of email. Then, 1994, USENET users were warned of a "Global Alert for All: Jesus is Coming Soon" in every single newsgroup. (Hey, if Jesus were really coming, wouldn't you want to make sure everyone knew?) Until then spam had at least been somewhat avoidable. What a quaint era that was.
On the Monty Python menu:
* Egg and bacon
* Egg, sausage and bacon
* Egg and SPAM
* Egg, bacon and SPAM
* Egg, bacon, sausage and SPAM
* SPAM, bacon, sausage and SPAM
* SPAM, egg, SPAM, SPAM, bacon and SPAM
* SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, egg, and SPAM
* SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, baked beans, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM and SPAM
* Lobster thermidor aux crevettes with a Mornay sauce served in the ProvenÃ§ale manner with shallots and aubergines, garnished with truffle patÃ©, brandy and with a fried egg on top and SPAM