The Changing Nature of Spam

Spam becomes more “sophisticated” and sometimes makes you wonder whether it isn’t in fact a legitimate response to what you’ve written. Today, I got the following for my post on Italo Calvino’s “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller…”:

Not to be a niggler for dateil, but what makes that first line a story and not just an image is that it’s got the full arc of a relationship in it:They were together. Something happened. It’s over. He’s in bandages. She’s done with him, but not so hard-hearted she’ll leave before he recovers.It’s all implied, like the bull under Picasso’s single curving line. (But check out how the mobile spins if you decide she’s the one wearing the bandages.)So it’s not just a moment, or a frozen image. The shape of the line includes the memory of the rest of the story. And that’s an efficiency to love.Every time I drive past Tenkiller Reservoir, I think of that guy who got 40 years for lovin’ her. And there’s still nothing strange about an ax with bloodstains in the barn.

It’s coherent, contains cultural references I get, and it’s about stories, like the Calvino, and the nature of story-telling; and I’m thinking, have I just forgotten a story in which someone is in bandages. There might have been one; I don’t have much memory for these things, even though I’ve only read them last month.

There’s a couple of things, on the other hand, that make me suspicious:

  • It doesn’t make any clear reference to what I’ve written – to be, as it were, part of the conversation
  • It forms part of a series of apparent “spam” messages
  • I recognise the quote from Tom Waits, and one of the other “spam” messages also contains a quote from Tom Waits

This is the second spam message (suspiciously attached to a different post):

Good gloss, but what I like about the sycamore in St. John’s Wood is that I can’t firgue it out. There’s GOT to be a story, it seems, but what it is isn’t clear.I guess the lines that occur to me that do what the bandages lines do, sorta is:I begged you to stab me, you tore my shirt open, and I’m down on my knees tonight/ Old Bushmill’s I stagger/ you buried the dagger/ in your silhouette window light.Here I get that there was this “you might as well kill me” scene which she didn’t follow through on; now our drunk hero staggers by her window and sees her in silhouette with someone — which effectively buries the dagger after all.And I’ll never kiss a Gun St. girl again.

So what’s going on here. – Well, a phenomenon I’ve observed before. These are quotations lifted from other conversations on the internet. If you paste them into Google you can easily find them. Here is the source of this one. And what do you notice about the story? Yes, it mentions Italo Calvino.

This leads to the possibility that in the future, with the improvement of the algorithms controlling spam and the exponential increase in random human thought on every subject contained on the internet, we will be able to hold intelligible conversations with spam. Who knows if we aren’t already? I’ve no real reason to believe any of the commenters here exist.


7 thoughts on “The Changing Nature of Spam

  1. The dreams ain’t broken no they all started out with bad directions. It’s time, time, time that you need to dig a hole with a spoon. It’s new, it’s improved, it’s old-fashioned. He never sang when he got hoodwinked. Everyone’s a winner. Bargains galore.

  2. I’ve even had spam that has been a cut’n’paste from an older post of mine on a similar theme. This raises the intriguing possibility of my conversing with my younger self.

  3. S: You can’t fool me. – Actually, inspired by spam, I’ve been playing Tom Waits much of the evening (currently on Frank’s Wild Years).

    AOG: I always suspected I’d find my earlier self to be an idiot; but once, going through some notebooks I’d written years before, I discovered that he held curiously similar opinions to me.

  4. A common lament: the changing nature of reality’s challenges. What doesn’t change is the quality of premium brands like Duff and Krustyburger, which you can aqcuire at your local Kwik-e-mart. It would seem that AIs are just playing with us now, the singularity having been achieved; and they’re figuring out what our tolerance levels for randomness are before deluging us with spam. But there is still, hope, Hang on Saint Christoper, hang in there!

    Seriously though, a little while ago there was this debate at the World Literature Forum about the ‘bot who produces the excellent poems at horse ebooks, behind which there is no actual human intelligence and how much better it is than similar efforts like NYT’s ‘haiku from our pages’ which are curated by actual humans. In any case the future promises to be fun…

  5. Hi Cleanthes

    Hmm, I suppose in retrospect it was obvious the kind of responses I was going to provoke with this. – Perhaps it will be otherwise then, perhaps human-beings and spam are going to converge: with human-beings uttering increasingly vague and irrelevant opinions about things. (This has the potential of Stanislaw Lem-style short story).

    I haven’t been to the World Literature Forum for years, even though it’s on my sidebar. I must have a read through it one of these days.

  6. Obooki, thank you for putting up with a little nonsense. You raise a very interesting point about the convergence of human and algorithm, given the fact that there are some countries where labor is so cheap people are paid to do things that would be too costly to do with an automated algorithm (like solving captchas).

    Second, we may have a new literary genre in our hands to compete with the newly crafted domestic picaresque of Amateur Reader (Tom). The rules are simple (so that both humans and algorithms can follow them):

    1)Do a web search for the author or book title mentioned in a blog post.
    2)Use a snippet of text from the 13th. result of the search.
    3)Include a reference to a Tom Waits song.
    4)Mention some vague commercial offer.
    5)Include two misspelled words.
    6)Mash all of the above with irrelevant philosophical inanities.
    We could call it the Tom Haibun. Or the Ambiguous Prosimetric.

    Who knew that Richard Brautigan’s All Spammed Over By Machines Of Loving Grace would turn out be prophetic?

  7. “The Ambiguous Prosimetric” sounds very like Stanislaw Lem.

    For a long time I’ve come to believe that almost anything that you’d believe was done by machine, is actually done by cheap labour. Maybe there are no machines used in manufacturing at all.

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