Revenge Effects in Email

Lately I have been spending an inordinate amount of time unsubscribing, blocking and/or marking as spam email lists. None of them are ones to which I subscribed, however. Instead, these are mostly lists that are newly showing up en masse in my inbox — and I don’t want them.

Who are the emails from? Half are from idiot PR agencies promoting nonsense about some company that is overpaying them to send out PR nonsense, and the rest is a hodge-podge of dodgy crap from conferences, industry associations, failing e-commerce vendors, and on and on. I want none of this stuff, never subscribed to it, and am pissed that I’m wasting time having to unsubscribe, etc. (Yes, I could mark it all as spam, but I’m always a little nervous in Gmail about doing that, what with the algorithm being something of a black box, so I don’t know whether I’m also spam-catching things I want to receive.) I also use the helpful, so it’s not simply me idiotically clicking on blind links and hoping some kind spammer stops spamming me.

So, here is my question: Why am I newly on so many email lists that I never asked to be on? Is it that I’m just noticing it more, or have I newly been added to some giant email list in the cloud that is selling my name? I don’t think it’s either.

My theory: It’s a revenge effect caused by better spam filters. (Revenge effects are unintended consequences of technologies, like how ubiquitous computing technologies made us work more, not less.) People had largely abandoned mass email as a way of reaching people, with so much it being caught up in spam floods. Now that spam filters are so good at catching spam and leaving ham for the email inbox, however, people are back to thinking of email as a viable transport for these mass mail missives. The result: Tons more email lists to which you, me and everyone are subscribed, and from which we must now unsubscribe.

I never thought I would say this, but it all makes me pine, at least a little, for the days of crappy email delivery. [-]