Finn Brunton – Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet


The MIT Press, ISBN-13: 978-0262018876, Finnish, 296 pages, 2013, English

The language challenge of spam is one of the most underestimated experiments in man-machine relationships. Spam is mainly triggered by the self-feeding appetite for algorithmically generated money, from the classic software-generated emails asking people to send money for various reasons, to the countless blogs – the so-called splogs or spam blogs – with their software-generated content trying to deceive Google AdSense ads control bots. But to accomplish these tasks programmers have to engage a literary mindset as they struggle to automatize the dialogue between the software and the victim (man or machine). In fact, this is the key point: spam is a never-ending game played between the generative spam software and the spam-filter to see who can outwit who – a sort of abstract and continuously updating Turing test. This book is a long, comprehensive study of spam including most of the scattered studies being written around this topic. It tracks the history of spam in three different eras and carefully analyses both sides (man and machine) through technical and social evolution, carefully investigating techniques and cultural references. The charming and almost accepted narrative of spam is here to stay because it’s part of global culture, affecting new technologies and standards, but still being able to penetrate our irresistible will to be in a dialogue with our own fate. Alessandro Ludovico