Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Breaking the Mail-ware Chain: Every. Time.

This morning I received another chain email from a good friend who means well.  She had forwarded one of those sappy messages that wraps a not-so-veiled threat in a puppies-and-rainbows feel-good message.  These things are crafted by someone—probably a lot of different people—for purposes that have nothing to do with the content.  Let’s deconstruct the message to see how it works.

Don't Panic button
The subject line made me cautious immediately:  “There all true.”  Anyone who doesn’t understand the difference between “they’re,” and “there,” probably does not  have great words of wisdom for me.  Granted, I’m an intellectual snob, but proper use of language is important if you want to communicate accurately.   

So here’s how this email goes.  We start off with an order followed immediately by a nice statement and then a threat:

            Read this and I mean REALLY read this! 
            This is without a doubt one of the nicest good luck forwards I have received.  I hope it works for you – and me!  You have 6 minutes.

Say what?  Is the bomb ticking?  What if it takes me more than six minutes to REALLY read this?  Will my computer explode?  Let’s continue:

            There’s some mighty fineadvice in these words, even if you’re not superstitious.  This has been sent to you for good luck from the Anthony Robbins organization.  It has been sent around the world ten times so far.

Hmmm.  The Anthony Robbins “organization.”  Does this mean the Anthony Robbins Foundation or are the authors just trying to sound like it?  Two words are run together so someone did not proofread very well.  And I guess that I’m supposed to be impressed by the fact that it has been around the world 10 times.  But how did they measure that?  Is there an app for tracking the distance an email travels?  And from where to where?  If I send an email to someone in Tokyo, does that count as halfway around the world?

            Do not keep this message.

Oh, don’t worry about that. 

            This must leave your hands in 6 MINUTE.  Otherwise you will get a very unpleasant surprise.  This is true, even if you are not superstitious, agnostic, or otherwise faith impaired.

Wow.  The time limit for sending it on has been repeated and emphasized but they left the S off the word MINUTE, which reinforces my suspicion that the author speaks English as a second language.  The threat is also repeated.  I will get a very unpleasant surprise even if I don’t believe that will happen (I don’t), if I’m agnostic (God is behind the threat with a stopwatch in His hand), or if I’m otherwise faith impaired.  This paragraph is the first time that religion has been mentioned and it’s a pretty vague reference but I guess that might motivate someone who believes that God is actually tracking what I do with this email. 

What follows is a list of 21 uncontroversial statements that sound wise and profound.  They are designed to give the reader both a good feeling and also to give him/her a reason to pass the message along.  After all, without these statements, the message is really just orders and threats and who’s going to send something like that to 15 of their best friends?  Here’s a couple to give you an idea:

ONE.   Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.
FIVE.  When you say, “I’m sorry, look the person in the eye.
TEN:  In disagreements, fight fairly.  No name calling.
FIFTEEN:  Say ‘bless you’ when you hear someone sneeze.

See what I mean?  They sound good but there’s no real substance to them. 

Having sucked you in this far, the email moves on to the real instructions:       

     Now, here’s the FUN part!  Send this to at least five people and your life will improve

Umm, why will it improve?  Did Pope Francis bless this email?  Did the Dalai Lama meditate on it?  Did the author light candles, say a novena, fast for a month, or hoist prayer flags?  Why would I believe that this email--or any email--has the power to improve my life?  Well, the author thought about that and provided some seemingly quantitative rationale:

1 – 4 people:  your life will improve slightly
5 – 9 people:  your life will improve to your liking
9 – 14 people:  you will have at least 5 surprises in the next 3 weeks
 15 and above:  your life will improve drastically and everything you ever dreamed of will begin to take shape.   

Clearly, the author wants this email passed along to as many people as possible.  But why?  Hmmm.  Could it be that the email contains some kind of malware, like a keyboard logger or a way to steal email addresses?  Call me cynical, but somehow I think that getting hacked is a whole lot more likely than blessings raining down upon me. 

                A true friend is someone who reaches for your hand and touches your heart Do not keep this message.

Now we’re back to the mixed messages.  A statement aimed at making you feel the the true friend who will reach out to all his/her friends by forwarding this message is followed by the command not to keep it.  Well, why not?  If it’s so great, why not hold on to it and read it every day?  I’m just saying.  Oh, that missing period between sentences once again raises my suspicions about the source of this email.

This is without a doubt one of the nicest good luck forwards I have received.  Hope it works for you – and me!

Well, it’s not going to work for you, baby, because I’m not going to pass it on to anybody.  But it’s probably too late for me since I opened the email already.  I deleted it and emptied the trash but my system is probably toast by now.  Don’t be surprised if you receive some junk email from me in the next few days. And now the wrap up:

            You have 6 minutes.

In case you didn’t get the threat before, here it is again.  The author wants to reinforce the importance of you sending it out to as many friends as possible as quickly as possible.  Well, the six minutes are long gone and I don’t expect to experience any bad luck real soon.  Why?  Two reasons: (1) I already got the bad luck from opening this email, and (2) an email has no magical power to affect your life for better or worse.   It’s an email.  It’s probably also loaded with malware and there’s no good luck in that for anyone except the originator. 

Delete chain email
I have said this before and I’ll say it again:  Please don’t send me chain emails.  I will break everyone I receive every time.  I repeat:  Every. Time.  I feel good about doing this because I think chain emails are just a con job in an electronic medium.  Oh, and I have broken many of them but never experienced any bad luck or ill fortune as a result. 

I’ll finish up with the email’s number 18:  “Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.”  I know my friend meant well in sending me this email.  Like most people who forward these things, she had no idea of its real content and intentions.  I hope she doesn’t take this post as criticism because that’s not its intention.  I do hope that you also take my example.  Break those fake feel-good chain emails every time.  Every.  Time.

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