Got interesting e-mail lately? O.K. — just don’t pass it along.

By Tom Long, The Detroit News – 09/10/2002 – 12:00am


It’s a particularly modern problem with no easy solution. Spam.

No, not that weird meat that comes in a can. The weird e-mail that comes in your computer. For the uninitiated, spam is what e-mailers call the dozens, hundreds, thousands of unwanted messages that somehow appear in your e-mail account. They can be ads for low mortgage rates, opportunities to make millions overnight, guaranteed diet plans, whatever.

Take the junk mail you find in your real-world mailbox and triple its potential, and you’ve got commercial spam. But there’s another kind of spam that’s a little more difficult to deal with. The kind of spam you get from a friend or acquaintance. Some people have gotten in the habit of sending jokes. Or interesting (to them) news items. Insightful essays on the meaning of life. Chain letters. Warnings about nonexistent viruses.

Usually when you get this sort of thing, you’re one of about 35 people listed who it’s been sent to. Which makes it feel real personal.

This was the question posed to me by Gary Lichtman, media director at University of Detroit Mercy, in — what else — an e-mail. So I called Gary. “I probably get four a day from some people I know very well and some people I don’t know at all, nor do I want to know at all,” he says. “I’m a decent guy, and I don’t want to insult these people. How do I tell this person in Ohio that I just don’t want to see this stuff? “In the back of my mind I’m thinking of saying I’m going to change my e-mail address, and I’ll give you the new one when I get it,” he admits. “And sometimes I can get away with saying it’s my work e-mail address, and I only want to get business mail.

“Obviously, I don’t want to hurt their feelings, but you look to see who they’re sending it to and it’s everyone they know in their life,” Gary moans. Ed Tracy II, a computer support manager from Sterling Heights, feels Gary’s pain. “I have a Hotmail account that I will not read because it’s just filled with junk,” he says.

Ed has let friends down easy. “I tell them I get a lot of mail,” he says. “When they have 20-30 other people listed, I don’t think they’ll be that offended. “One friend, after sending messages for a year, actually sent a message saying if you’re interested in receiving this, let me know,” Ed says. But few are so considerate.

“I’m experiencing that myself, and I was about to send an e-mail to a friend to deal with it,” says Sue Fox, author of ‘Etiquette for Dummies’ and ‘Business Etiquette For Dummies,’ “Unless you know for sure that your friends and colleagues want this stuff, don’t send it to them,” Fox advises. “It’s like all technology right now; it’s gotten ahead of us, where we haven’t gotten any rules,” Fox says. “You have to be courteous and honest with people and say you’d appreciate it if they took you off their list.” But that’s easier said than done, as even Fox attests. “I haven’t done it yet myself,” she admits. “I almost did last night.” After all, nobody wants to insult someone.

“Watch — this article will run and I’ll have no friends,” Lichtman says. Don’t worry, Gary. I’ll still be there for ya. Just don’t send me any spam.

Tom Long’s column appears in Features on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He can be reached by phone at (313)222-8879, or by e-mail at tlong@detnews.com.

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