Not-quite-spam

As I’ve hinted in the last couple posts, all is not well in Word Munger land. For the last week, I’ve had tremendous email problems, and then last night if you visited Word Munger you would have seen an ugly “account suspended” notice.

What happened?

Well, my email problem was due to the fact that my email box at my ISP is full. Why is it full? I have no idea; I thought I’d configured it to delete messages after I checked them. Why didn’t my ISP warn me that my mailbox was full?

Actually, they did. I just didn’t notice. You see, I get lots of messages from my ISP — I get TWO emails every month from them, just to let me know that my bill has been automatically paid, like it is every month. So I ignore them. I have a rule in my email program that places them all into a folder, unread. Again, no skin off my back — 99 percent of these messages are irrelevant.

But occasionally they send a message I need to pay attention to — for example, a message that tells me that I won’t be getting any email from anyone unless I do something right away.

Or another message from my ISP. This one went straight into my spam folder, because it came from an individual (who worked for the ISP) instead of something like your_isp@your_isp.com. The subject line was something like “Your Your_ISP Account.” What could be more innocuous than that? Yet this was the message to inform me that my account was about to be suspended because my credit card had expired in September (this was another problem I thought I’d fixed, but I hadn’t quite fixed it good enough for my ISP. Much too long a story to go into any more detail here).

I’ve managed to sort out those problems (I think), but they are representative of a much larger problem: not-quite-spam. I get dozens of messages from Amazon, telling me of a must-have CD, or the book they just know I’ll love because I bought some related book from them. I get vats of emails from investment companies I do business with, from online services I’ve used once or twice and then forgotten about, or from mailing lists I subscribed to long ago and now don’t care about anymore. Most of the time, these emails are of no consequence, but occasionally I worry: what if my credit card company is telling me about fraudulent purchases on my account? What if Amazon is telling me the present I bought for my nephew is out of stock and won’t be delivered by Christmas (this actually happened)?

Spam — the real stuff, like hare-brained investment schemes and recreational sex-drugs — is easy to recognize, but not-quite-spam isn’t so easy, because it comes from the same people who sometimes send you emails that aren’t spam at all. Sometimes I ignore not-quite-spam so much that my email client decides to lump it in with real spam — and who can blame it? It’s nearly the same thing.

I’ve pretty much figured out how to deal with my real spam. But I predict that in the future, the not-quite-spam problem will grow even bigger. How will companies figure out how to communicate the really important (to me) stuff when they are also sending me piles of stuff that are only really important to them?

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