The global quantity of spam email has dropped by one fifth since Russian authorities launched an investigation of SpamIt.com, a Russian site that paid spammers to advertise online pharmacies. SpamIt was allegedly run by Igor Gusev, a 31 year-old Muscovite best known for repeatedly explaining the phrase “I run a website that pays the owners of automated email generators to promote online pharmacies” at cocktail parties. It turns out that’s all one word in Russian, and it sounds a lot like the word for “I am a total cock-gobbler.”
Gusev’s whereabouts are currently unknown; Russian police believe he has fled the country.* They have charged him with operating a pharmacy without a license and the somehow very Russian crime of failing to register a business, although a search of his apartment last week is expected to result in additional charges for computer offenses. His site closed on September 27, six days into the investigation. Since then, global spam levels have declined by approximately 50 billion emails a day.
I did not mistype that. SpamIt was apparently responsible for seven emails for every man, woman and child on earth each day, or 18 trillion emails a year. Don’t worry, though—global spam levels are currently holding steady at about 200 billion messages daily. If we lowball the average word count of each email at 100, that’s twenty trillion words of spam every day. By comparison, American book publishers released 172,000 new titles during the last year for which data was available. If we put the average word count of a book at 30,000 and the average print run at—okay, we have no idea what that is, but if it’s less than 72,000, the total daily output of spam appears to dwarf the annual output of the US publishing industry.
And virtually nobody reads them.* In the 6,000 years or so since written language was invented, we have developed the technology to allow computers to write a year’s worth of books every day, 90% of which are almost instantly read and deleted by other computers, and the other tenth of which are manually deleted by all but the baldest, scared-est, most tiny penis-est among us.
This mechanism costs millions of dollars. Besides the incomes it creates for various spam filter programmers, questionable Russians and sellers of unlicensed pills that will maybe do nothing, maybe give you a boner and maybe make you go blind, it yields no tangible benefit. It is briefly annoying every once in a while, but primarily it is senseless in the most vertiginous sense of the word: two trillion words a day, beamed across the world and unread, existing briefly as patterned arrangements of magnetic particles replicated 200 billion times apiece and then overwritten by 200 billion different replicated patterned arrangements the next day.
It’s so senseless that I’m hard-pressed to say whether it’s even a problem. Spam is annoying, sure, but I can’t remember the last time a piece of it made it past my Gmail filter. Over the course of the last year, eleven thousand spam comments have been submitted to this blog, but Aksimet* catches most of them before they get published, and I get the rest. The end result appears to be a stalemate, as if spam had never been invented.
Again, though, that stalemate costs millions of dollars and Google-knows-how-many labor hours. But then yet again, it also creates jobs for otherwise useless computational linguistics graduates and other internet types. Spam, a completely useless industry, has spawned a completely necessary counter-industry just to get us back to the place we were before the spam industry appeared.
This may be as close to a pure economic utopia as we’re going to get. Weird Russian dudes get paid millions of dollars to tell computers to write emails that nobody will read, and weird American (okay, Indian) dudes get paid millions of dollars to make sure we don’t have to read them. Besides the robots on which it all runs and the electricity consumed, no physical entities are involved in this economy. If we can get some solar panels going, this thing might finally achieve the dream of free money for everybody.
Or—and I’m just spitballing, here—we could knock it the fuck off and tell those guys to work on cancer.