I plan to focus on my dear friend, Sam Yam. He is affectionately known as "S(p)am Yam" due to the amount of "spam" he sends his friends.
At this point in time, Sam is away from us at school. He still utilizes his discretion in sending messages (usually with a fantastical, titillating, or intriguing angle). But why does he spam? What is chosen to be sent and to which people?
Over the summer, Sam was subject to a project, entitled "S(p)am Sam Yam". It was envisioned by fellow MCM participant, and close S(p)am friend, Laurenneal. The conceit was to spam Sam with as much inane content as possible for 7 days straight. After this experiment failed (or succeeded?), Sam's cognizance about the performance of his role grew. How does "S(p)am" (an adopted name) become a performance of itself? How does he use technology to reach across physical and temporal boundaries? Is it spam, at all if he knows exactly who will receive and, subsequently read it?
As every message contains hidden recipients (through liberal use of the "bcc-" function), what is the community he has fostered? Who is hidden from the rest? Who is "imagined" to be included?
This paper will be in video conversation with Sam as his online presence increasingly grows. His recent acquisition of an iPhone keeps him in constant contact with those he wishes to be in communication with.
The paper will also examine how the writer (one of few who receives the most spam) has counteracted the excess with personalized emails of his own.
Inspiration will come from
1. Rafael -- How the individual can be a broadcaster
2. Terranova -- Free labor, knowledge as power/commodity
3. Kleinberg -- chains
INTERVIEW with SUBJECT: S(p)am Yam
Why do you spam?
I S(p)am to share. I value every piece of knowledge I encounter in life and feel the responsibility to share with others. If it matters to me, there is a great chance it will matter to someone else. The question is how often I have a hit with each individual of the contacts I keep. I S(p)am for the greater good, for the enlightenment of the majority over the minor inconvenience of the few.
How do you choose your material?
I never deliberately seek to S(p)am, nor do I intentionally hunt out data to flood your inboxes. I go about online as always, and it is only when I come across a fact, picture, quote, article, audio or video that has an impact on me that I consider sharing it with others. That is always the test. If it affects a change in me, I then save it as a draft of potential S(p)am. From there I usually let the material sit for one or more days, reconsidering it until I decide how to package it and deliver it to whom, or discard it forever.
Why and how do you choose people to receive it?
Each S(p)am is delivered through blind carbon copy to a unique set of recipients based on its content. There has only been one instance so far of revealing email addresses.
I personalize the actual list for each message from my inventory of contacts, one hundred and fifty and counting, selecting only the recipients that I feel will benefit, appreciate, share, laugh and learn from the information I am presenting. Am I forcing unwanted content or abusing the privilege of possessing someone's contact information? When it only takes a click to delete a message, I feel S(p)am is no worse than the constant advertisement we are subjected to throughout our lives, for example, though mine is tailored to individual characters from a personal connection.
Do you use it to reconnect with your friends?
When away from the people I care most about and whose company I enjoy, I feel that frequent, personal efforts of communication are more memorable and lasting than a single phone call or email every few months. Email allows us to be a part of each other's daily lives on our own time. People know that I am thinking about them when I take the time to send them something I feel they would enjoy or learn from, and they appreciate it even more when they can experience these communications at a time convenient to them. Though certainly meant to maintain a presence in the lives of others despite physical separation, I also garner a selfless pleasure from it all, which is especially true when sharing music.
Do you find your internet scouring (described hereafter as "free labor") selfless? Are you fulfilled by your work? How does your work (or "production") require/compel consumption?
Do I find my free labor selfless? Yes, to an extent. I do not have to spend my time compiling and delivering S(p)am, but I choose to because I like to receive personalized messages and also like sharing what I find. Yet is an email personalized if there are more than ten recipients? Twenty? One hundred? Not to the degree that an individual correspondence is, but certainly more so than breaking news alerts and eBay deals.
I am very much fulfilled by my work when it introduces a thought or creation to others that they had not experienced before or that they then reconsider in a new light. Yet I am also driven by a selfish desire to be associated with this dissemination, so that when they revisit this song or quote or image they think of me, in whatever fashion, and thus I enter their lives more often than I ever could only with my physical presence.
In most cases, the presence of media compels consumption more so than text alone ever could, a fact I capitalize on in S(p)am. At this point, an email without pictures, color or $(p)@m §ρeeκ looks naked to me. Yet by infusing each correspondence with media content, am I changing the recipient's perception of the text? Will this association carry on beyond the S(p)am? By default my work requires consumption. Text will flash before your eyes no matter how quickly you delete a message. Should you choose to open it, any enclosed media will appear and further impel you to read, click and view, as it should. If I did not want you to consume, I would never send you S(p)am in the first place.
What is the "value" of reading your emails? Interpret value as you will.
There is no inherent value in S(p)am with one exception: there is monetary value in correspondence that include a link to download music, since in most cases this is music I have purchased and that you are able to consume and share without paying. That said, if you value knowledge, as I do, and classify knowledge as any information regardless of merit, as I do, then you might be inclined to view S(p)am as possessing value. Acquisition of knowledge leads to understanding, and hopefully compassion, that which I value above all else.
Is your work a form of resistance?
Very much so. I resist banality. I resist systems, in particular the way we write. Meticulously structured and necessarily so, our writing system constricts us in ways we hardly ever consider. Perhaps the most lasting result of my experience with Chinese, I miss the imagery of our written word. The pictogram is gone. Part of my work is to infuse text with pictures, to address what cannot be addressed through words. Yet doing so changes the perception of the text, a point of obsession for me. The alphabet allows for abstraction. Words elicit different images from different people. Yet when I insert an actual image, I introduce a direct visual into your mind, generating resultant images that modify or perhaps block entirely what you might have otherwise seen.
I seek to provoke, to promote the vulgar, to combat the pristine. We are flawed, we are single, we are finite.
Do you find a "cultural exchange" in your s(p)amming?
Not very often, especially with my generation and younger. The courtesy and expectation of response has been lost with the advent of email. Only very strong reactions lead to a S(p)am reply from friends. What I do find is that frequent recipients are more likely to reciprocate and send articles, music and videos they think I will enjoy. However, this overall one-sided relationship has never deterred me from continuing to S(p)am. When I do hear reactions, they are overwhelmingly positive, and there have only been three requests to discontinue correspondence, two of which were a response to multiple text messages.
I will always encourage responses and value criticism of the form. We all love attention.
Do you ever want your work to incite action?
As I said, I want to incite knowledge and compassion. These in turn may lead to action, a desirable effect particularly with the political. I feel very strongly about issues I deem moral and care about my fellow man. If a piece of information causes you to speak up and fight back, I consider that a great victory, not so much for me but for the merits of communication. Although the Internet allows for vast amount of refuse, it also allows for the circulation of the truth. It allows the few to coalesce and combat greater tides of destruction. I care about openness, about candor. I am inspired by so much and feel a responsibility to share that inspiration. It does not die with me. It is magnified by the community.
Interview composed by Nick White on December 13th, 2009