Mark your calendars, folks! There are just 10 days to go till the new book In the Beginning hits stores, and we're continuing the countdown today with some important information about SPAM, part II: (the e-mail genre).
SPAM, Pt II: SPAM (The E-mail Genre)
If you're sick of blaming dethroned Nigerian kings, triple-X porn sites and mail-order purveyors of Viagra for all the junk in your e-mail box, why not take issue with the real rascals behind the word.
SPAM (A Lot)
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 (see below). 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 some clever 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 Multi User Domain 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, in 1994, USENET users were warned of a "Global Alert for All: Jesus is Coming Soon" in every single newsgroup. (Hey, if Jesus were 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.
Psst... if you liked this post, here are some other delicious origins you might want to read about: The Birth of Roller Coaster, The Very Strange Origins of the Dishwasher, A James Bond Story (for your eyes only!), and the Fascinating Tribe behind the original Bungee Jump.
Remember: In the Beginning goes on sale November 1st, and will be available at (respectable) bookstores everywhere!