Spam, survey requests, people’s initiatives impinge on our time, Part I

Most of you of a certain age (say, above 30) should immediately recognize the name Andy Rooney (1919-2011). He was the grumpy, often whiny, scruffy and bushy eyebrowed, always honest TV commentator, whose five-minute segment closed the “60 Minutes” program from 1978 to 2011. Tick tick tick tick tick tick…

Once called “America’s Grouch-in-Chief” by fellow journalist Ed Bradley, Rooney loved to complain, and was good at it, always in satirical fashion, about things big and small: from terrorist attacks and corporate greed to the excessive amount of cotton stuffed (he visually demonstrated it) into pill bottles and the low placement of soap holders in bathtubs, where soap bars get soggy and suffer premature dissolvement; he offered no evidence of collusion between soap companies and bathroom builders.

I admired Rooney for his wit, intelligence, and honesty (even though his political incorrectness often got him in trouble). It was my favorite part of the show; and I am not alone as “60 Minutes” ratings dropped sharply, as much as 20%, whenever the program put him on the penalty box.

As a columnist, I have avoided complaining and using a whiny tone. This Rooneyesque column is an exception.



Lowercase “spam” are unsolicited emails often sent indiscriminately, usually to promote some good or service. It should not surprise email users that 85% of emails are spam.

Just like uppercase Spam — no relation etymologically or otherwise — digital spam comes in different varieties. Ranked from acceptable to worst, these include: (1) general emails on matters that may be of interest to particular recipients (I, for example, receive numerous book promotions and conference information); more annoying are (2) emails with no bearing to recipients (today, I got one for a health and fitness app; they are barking up the wrong tree); (3) completely indiscriminate emails sent to massive numbers of addresses (an approach equivalent to the use of drift gillnets cast into the ocean to fish halibut and other types of fish, but that end up killing dolphins, sea lions, even endangered whale species; and (4) the most abominable of all, phishing emails — no relation etymological or otherwise to fishing — often written with a foreign accent (notifications of inheritances from long-lost Nigerian relatives or impersonators of Yahoo or Google staff telling us that we need to click here or there to reopen our accounts).


Fortunately, most spam ends up directly in “junk mail” but there are plenty of false positives (important or urgent messages marked as spam, which we read days or weeks later) and false negatives (which one is forced to delete manually: click, click, click…).

One could minimize the volume of spam by clicking on “unsubscribe,” but I don’t recommend it unless you are absolutely certain that the email comes from a legitimate source. We are advised to never click on any link, yet we treat “unsubscribe” links as if they are not potentially harmful.

Besides, when one clicks “unsubscribe” to emails from some reputable organizations, it doesn’t always work, and if it does, you are usually interrogated about it: “Why do you wish to unsubscribe?” I wish they had had the courtesy of asking me before including my address in their spam list. “Are you sure you want to unsubscribe?” “OK, sorry to see you go.” Really?


As a university professor, the vast majority of spam I get relates to education, emails about new books, webinars (seems like everyone is giving one these days), platforms, trainings, etc. The COVID-19 pandemic, which forced so many of us into Zoombieland has, indeed, sparked the explosion of the education industrial complex, hundreds of companies promising student success or peddling teaching materials.

Most of the book promotion emails I get are pertinent, relating to my field of history. A few years ago, I ordered a psychology book directly from a publisher, which landed me in some psychology spam list. I have unsubscribed from some fancy presses whose titles are identity-obsessed or are insufferably politically correct.

I also get calls for conference papers and invitations to contribute to journals or write books. Some are reputable but others are highly suspicious. Why does a journal whose name I will not disclose send me bimonthly invitations to contribute articles? They seem desperate for submissions. I don’t trust them enough to click “unsubscribe.” A couple of years ago, I received a spam invitation to write an article for a business journal of evident ill repute.

This column should have taken you five minutes to read, as long as watching an Andy Rooney “60 Minutes” segment, but it’s not as good. Tick tick tick tick tick tick…

To be continued.


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