Next time, think before you click

Almost no one enjoys receiving spam e-mail. Most smarmy messages for porn, weight-loss and get-rich-quick schemes get banished to the “Deleted” file almost as soon as they announce their unwanted presence in your Inbox. An irritation, yes. But not usually unbearable, or overly time-consuming.

But what about when the “spammer” isn’t some faceless advertising schemer, but a friend, colleague or family member? Probably everyone who uses the ‘net regularly knows someone like this. I’ll call them e-mail blitzers – those well-meaning, but misguided souls who insist on sending every tasteless joke, “inspirational” message, embarrassing photo, chain letter, obscene cartoon and huge video file to everyone in their address book, without discretion. Over and over again. For them, e-mail is a novelty; a hobby. A new toy. In some cases, they think nothing of sending 15 or 20 messages in a row.

I remember chain letters from grade school – a childish game based on superstition and peer pressure. You would think as adults, we would have outgrown this sort of thing, but it seems to have made a huge comeback on the Web. See if the following sounds familiar: “Forward this message to 10 friends or you will be immediately stricken with horrible luck for the rest of your life. If you don’t have 10 friends then you are a loser…” Does anyone over the age of 10 really enjoy receiving this stuff? At least these messages, however annoying, are usually text-based files and relatively small.

Then there is the problem of attachments. Last week it took me almost half an hour to download one e-mail message, which turned out to be some silly 8MB video clip of an “Olympic hopeful” falling on her head. I’m not exactly overly-blessed with bandwidth, and I didn’t really find this worth waiting 25 minutes for, but I hadn’t much choice in the matter.

Feeling victimized by your e-mail acquaintances can be a touchy situation, however. If you get angry, you risk offending someone who may have just wanted to cheer you, and almost certainly never intended any harm. Besides, telling people to “please cut it out” isn’t really effective. They apologise, are contrite, until it happens again. And again. The problem is, it’s just too easy to click a mouse and hit “Send.” Some people just can’t resist. (After all, how many people in your address book would you bother to write to if you actually had to utilize envelopes and stamps?)

I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon. I have a sense of humour. Really, I do. I like a good joke as much as the next person. I’ve even been know to forward a few of them myself on occasion. But not usually in the form of large files, and certainly not 20 messages at time. So, here is my appeal to all you e-mail blitzers out there (and you know who you are): Next time you are thinking of sending that “priceless” cartoon, or 10MB video of someone hang-gliding naked, ask yourself first if the recipient is likely to be as amused by it as you are. Chances are your new-found discretion may just save everyone some time.