When a robot says “dude

The poetry of spam

I used to pretty much skip past the scores of penis-enlargement spam in my mailbox. But recently, I’ve started to read it, because it’s becoming weirdly literary. Consider the following email I just received; the subject line was “the big unit”, and the text was:

Xlli hgmkcfpe ni Are you ready? I suppose I ought to give the wooden dummy a good start of me, growled Jim You are right! exclaimed the demon, striding up and down the room, and causing thereby such a crackling of electricity in the air that Rob’s hair became rigid enough to stand on end

Hell, that might as well be a direct quote from Ulysses. In fact, maybe it is. I’ve been reading about spam software lately, and one of the ways that spammers try to get around spam filters is to include unusual and unique text in the message. Many spam filters watch for keywords like “penis” and “big” and “rod” or whatever, which occur in a particularly recognizable frequency. So to dodge that, the spammers have text generators that throw in tons of weird stuff like that passage above. But since the goal is to emulate human-style writing, merely using random text wouldn’t be enough. So it wouldn’t surprise me if some spammers are stripping passages out of novels — traditional literature, bodice-rippers, websites with stories on them — and automatically remixing it as spam text.

Either way, the results are pretty hilarious, eh? I particularly like that little randomized utterance at the beginning — “Xlli hgmkcfpe ni”. It’s almost like the computer is clearing its throat, spitting up a bit of ASCII caught in its vocal cords, as a prelude to singing.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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