Junk email gets a pretty bad rap, the vast majority of that well deserved. You see commercials for companies like AOL and Earthlink bragging about their spam protection systems. Yes, it’s a nuisance for most consumers, and nightmare for systems administrators. But have we completely forgotten its direct ancestor? (Today Merriam Webster might call them “consanguineous.”) How much do you really hear about junk snail mail? And what is your post office doing to protect you from it? As much as your ISP?
Towards the end of 2006 I cleaned up my home office and carried a couple of bags worth of grocery circulars and shredded credit offers to the curb, and it got me to thinking about how much waste the direct mail industry produces, be it pure junk, or even just upsell offers from companies with which I already do business. This year, I’m conducting a little experiment to see just how much junk mail gets shoved into my box on the street. I bought a postal scale so I can weigh all the mail as it comes in and track it in an Excel spreadsheet. There’s only one thing I’m excluding to keep from skewing the results: Packages I’ve ordered from retailers that are delivered directly to the house. Most of those come via FedEx and UPS, so the issue’s pretty much moot anyway.
As I write this, it’s early morning on January 17th. There have been 11 days so far this year with mail delivery, and three non-Sunday days without mail due to two national holidays (New Year’s and MLK) and one day of national mourning for the passing of President Ford. How much have I received so far?
If you look at the pie chart above, you’ll notice that it looks remarkably like Pac Man puking up a rainbow. Granted, that observation doesn’t really explain much (about the mail) does it?
Here are the piles I’m stacking the incoming mail into:
- ACCT — Mail regarding accounts I have with companies
- NON-ACCT — Junk from companies with which I have accounts
- SPAM — “Pure spam” from companies I have no existing business with
- MAGS — Magazines
- PERSONAL — Personal correspondence
So, with those categories in mind, you can see that our little Pac Man is composed entirely of “pure spam” — and he makes up roughly two-thirds of all of the mail I’ve received so far. Considering that some surveys say that two-thirds of all email is spam, it will be interesting to see if this trend holds up over time. If it does, it might poke holes in the theories that “pay-for-play” systems could help curb the tide of spam.
If you look at the numbers on Pac Man, you’ll notice that I’ve already received over a kilogram of spam. 1.2 kilos, to be more precise. Why am I measuring in the metric system when the post office uses the good old fashioned imperial system? Well, because I’m lazy and the math is a lot easier. For those who aren’t sure how much that is and are too lazy to look it up themselves, it’s about 2.7 pounds.
Anyway, put subjectively, it’s “a lot.”
I look forward to seeing how this project evolves. I’ve already told you a little of what I hope to learn from this. What about you? Anything you’re curious about? What sort of things would you like to see me comment on in future updates?