Return to sender

A while back I wrote a column extolling the joys of forwarded e-mail—the jokes, the weird news items, the inspirational stories that, judging by the trail of forwarded addresses, live a more lively social life than most of my human acquaintances. However, it has come to my attention that some people just don’t know when to quit.

And so it’s time for a Kiss My ASCII educational interlude. For the edification of my correspondents, for the convenience of my readers, and for the love of Pete, allow me to present a simple, easy-to-follow guide to what does NOT belong in my mailbox.

*Going postal. The US Postal Service wants to tax every single e-mail you get (5 cents per piece, according to Bill 602P), and congressman Tony Schnell has suggested an additional $20-$40 surcharge on all Net service above and beyond that. I know this because Kate Turner, an assistant to Richard Stepp of Berger, Stepp, & Gorman (Attorneys at Law, Vienna, VA) sent out a message that lands in my mailbox about once a week. This would be useful data, except that 602P isn’t Federal bill nomenclature, there’s no Tony Schnell in the House or the Senate, there’s no such firm as Berger, Stepp, & Gorman, and the US Postal Service has enough trouble getting a one-cent stamp increase, let alone something like this. Again: NO ONE WANTS TO SURCHARGE YOUR E-MAIL, though the people who forward this ought to keep a nervous eye out for the long-overdue stupidity tax.

*Mickey for nothing and your pants for free. Conversely, Microsoft and Disney do not want to give you a free trip to Disneyworld for forwarding e-mail. The Gap and Abercrombie and Fitch do not want to give you cargo pants for forwarding e-mail. No large company has banded with any other large company to give away the stuff they’ve made their fortunes with for forwarding e-mail. Deep in your heart you know this.

*Millennialist hysteria. This may be a personal affliction—write about the government and privacy a few dozen times and the black-helicopter crowd will tattoo your e-mail address on their foreheads—but would the people sending the “YOU HAVE THREE MONTHS TO LIVE!!!” and “WHEN EVERYBODY STARTS EATING EACH OTHER” stuff please give it up already? By now anyone truly frightened about Y2K has retreated to their reinforced underground bunkers with their MREs and their water-purification tablets. The rest of us are just going to have to tough it out with Dick Clark, overpriced restaurant reservations, and cheesy 01-01-00 merchandise. Either way, stop pestering me. If you really think it’s going to go that badly, why not let natural selection take its course?

*No-newsletters. What does it take to get off the RealNetworks, UBL, CitySearch, and mailing lists? It’s obviously beyond the power of a mere “unsubscribe” message; I’ve done everything short of gnawing off a foot to escape, but no dice. One day we’ll have a Direct Marketing Association-style agency to which we can complain about these things, but for now, once you’re on one of these lists you’re at the mercy of the competence of the person who set up the list in the first place. If that person is within the sound of my voice, please: Remove, unsub, farewell, goodbye.

*Spam. Alternative-medicine cancer cures, bulk-mailing address lists, credit-card merchant accounts, male sexual dysfunction drugs, paper products, weight loss programs, zero-down repossessed vehicles for sale—from A to Z, a list of crap I wouldn’t buy from my best friend, much less some idiot over e-mail. In the eloquent words of a Usenet pal, “please go kill yourselves; you’re too stupid to live.” Seriously. Die. I have nothing funny to say about you.

*Virtual knick-knacks. ASCII art is a noble art form, but Leonardo dot-Vinci couldn’t redeem the cavalcade of snowballs, teddy bears, roses, and other things that ought to remain strictly nonvirtual. Worse, most of them come with a request to send the mail back to whomever sent it as proof that oo wuv ’em too. I love my mom, but every time she sends me one of these things I feel like I’m being forced to take a loyalty oath. (Worse, my mom forwards two kinds of messages: these things and dirty jokes. Either way I get scared when I see her e-mail arrive.)

I know I’ve missed plenty of offenders, though they have not missed me. However, if this eliminates even a little bit of junk from your mailbox or mine I’ll count my job well done. And I’ll really know I’ve made a hit if I see this—yes—forwarded to me in e-mail.