TED's 31 days of Ideas - Day 23: This is what happens when you reply to spam email

This is what happens when you reply to spam email

By Alex Rosenthal

"Hello James Veitch,

I have an interesting business proposal I want to share with you,


James makes the uncommon choice of hitting the "reply" button, and so begins what has to be one of the funniest TED Talks of all time, "This is what happens when you reply to spam email." It's good for a laugh and a quick pick-me-up. But there's also a fascinating subtext: What's going on in this phisher's head? Does he actually think he's going to succeed in conning James? Or at some point does the scammer just decide to play along and participate in an impromptu, improvisational piece of performance art? (I’d also like to know whether this guy is aware that his email exchange is the subject of a TED Talk that’s been watched millions of times.)

I love that Veitch's performance is equal parts stand-up comedy, TED Talk and epistolary narrative. But what I love even more is that a profoundly and absurdly human interaction emerges from the most profane of places. It makes me wonder what sort of adventures my spam folder might hold -- and how we might take advantage of spam as an untapped medium of communication. Perhaps future spam will be 25 percent cons, 25 percent unsolicited poems and 50 percent puzzles with cryptic, encoded messages.

A boy can dream.