Numerous theories exist as to the origin of the term. The most popular relates to a skit from Monty Python's Flying Circus. Spam, of course, has a lengthy and illustrious history, and as is perhaps predictable, numerous sites on the web are devoted to telling its story. (Linkrot has taken it's toll, but here's an update.) But what concerns us here is the internet-related meaning of the term:
The second definition has become much more prevalent as the Internet has opened up to non-techies, and to many Usenetters it is probably now (1995) primary.
> ...so much time to discuss Spam? I have no idea what that thread
> ...Don't these people have a [professional] life? I wonder if their
> superiors know that are spending so much work time discussing canned
> meat products!? ... Director Distance Education & Special Projects
Ah, spoken as a true "superior" ;) Professional point, I suppose; however, in my professional "slightly" more than 40 hrs/wk I actually learned a couple "spam" things I would have never learned otherwise. But you 'spam' guys don't let this happen again... the WEB Police p.s. This weak attempt at humor only took 72 seconds. Sorry boss. Won't happen again.
All the spam complaints have eaten up far more bandwidth than the original spam itself. Lets agree, no spamming and no griping about spamming.
(An aside is called for here. One of the most laughable, yet ultimately also bandwidth consuming, spams is the "Make Money Fast" post which has gone through innumerable carnations [discussed briefly in The Joys of E-mail]. A couple of industrious students thought of an ingenious, albeit comic, method of combatting these exasperating posts. They created a newsgroup: alt.make.money.fast, and suggested that everyone with a get rich quick scheme post their idea to that list. A web page about the newsgroup, as well as a web based FAQ on the list are a pleasure to read. Though it didn't shut down the traffic on other lists, surprisingly [or perhaps not so surprisingly considering who actually tries these schemes] people actually did post to that list, and they're probably still offering each other offers that can't be refused.)
People join online mailing lists out of a common interest. Just about every conceivable sort of group exists, and new ones spring up all the time. When you join, you know pretty well what you're getting into: a list devoted to the belief that the Beatles were the greatest rock group ever won't carry postings about how wonderful a singer Frank Sinatra was; a list devoted to programming in Visual Basic won't carry postings about reincarnation and past lives. But who wants to be part of a totally predictable group? A number of lists exist in Israel, each for a particular reason and purpose. Il-board is for the discussion of computer related issues and problems. Il-talk is for anything that anyone could conceivably want to talk about. Presumably, list members know and understand the distinction.
But every two or three weeks someone comes along and posts a volatile message to il-board. It may be political (ranging from defending Baruch Goldstein to questioning the sanity of the government for opening the tunnel under the Kotel) or social (an offer to trade photographs of naked wives held reign a few weeks back), but one way or another, these messages clearly are not in synch with the defined purpose of the list. There's always someone who'll write that the discussion should be moved to il-talk, but there are many others who jump on the bandwagon and express their opinion or have some fun before the issue dies down. Invariably someone points a shaking finger at these last posts, telling the posters that they should know better, but everyone gets to kick the topic until it's finally declared dead for lack of interest.
So if we all know better, why do we take part in this oft repeated ritual instead of valiantly resisting the urge to express ourselves? Simply put, it's boring talking to ourselves. We joined the list to express our opinions and hear others' opinions on a particular topic, but that's much too predictable and boring. We want and need the occasional incendiary post that wakes us up and gets the fun started. People join lists in order to communicate with others. Though before joining they probably assume that communication means a civil exchange of opinions, sooner or later they realize that communication means more than like-thinking minds congratulating each other on how perceptive they are. They discover that they need some outside input, something to spark some excitement. Spam fits the bill wonderfully. Spam consumes both time and resources. But e-mail would be so dull without it.
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