“Feels like the spam calls are picking up,” my editor said to me today. Yes, it does. A glance through my call log from this week showed one incoming real call and 10 incoming spam calls.
We wrote a bunch about this in 2019 — here are some ideas for protecting yourself, and yes, I have chosen the nuclear option — and if anything, the situation has gotten worse. The FCC has made some idle threats against carriers, but I have yet to see any real action. At this point, I despair. The FCC doesn’t care; the carriers don’t care; the cost of spam is low for spammers, and the fact that they are ripping apart networks? Doesn’t seem to matter.
It feels like a tide of bullshit is rising
I didn’t use to avoid the phone. As a teenager, I spent hours on end talking to my friends. But because of the sheer volume of spam, I don’t expect any useful calls — and neither does anyone else I know.
It’s a shame. I don’t enjoy video calls, mostly because I can’t pace on camera and walking helps me think. During my peak telephone use, I used to take our cordless landline out to the back porch and pace back and forth while my friends and I gossiped. Seeing old TV shows where people twirl the cords on their phones makes me unspeakably nostalgic.
Every goddamn company wants my phone number, and none of them are guarding my data closely. I assume another part of the problem is the robo-dialers. But emotionally, the problem feels bigger than that.
It feels like a tide of bullshit is rising because it’s not just my phone. Spammers have gotten better at evading Gmail’s filters — I assume because Google is letting Gmail rot, just like search, while the company focuses on its shiny new AI toys. I get fake receipts for purchases I didn’t make: probably phishing attempts. In my work email, every lazy public relations agency has signed me up for their newsletters without my consent.
I’ve started using cash at stores again because cash doesn’t automatically sign me up for marketing emails I don’t want
As with phone calls, I used to look forward to emails; I even once made online friends via listservs. But as technology became increasingly central to everyday life, the number of people in my email decreased dramatically, and the number of marketers went up. I’ve started using cash at stores again because cash doesn’t automatically sign me up for marketing emails I don’t want.
The pernicious thing about those marketing emails is how long it takes to unsubscribe. A click to a new browser window, where I have to then confirm I mean it and am prompted to check a box to explain why. All for something I didn’t want in the first place. Thinking about it makes me tired. When I do bother to click through, I always report the emails as spam. I don’t think it matters, but it makes me feel better.
There was a time when the internet was made out of people, but now that it’s spammers and corporations, I feel like I need a secretary — or a bouncer — to make sure only humans get through. When I was younger, the internet felt like a ticket to a bigger, more exciting world than the cornfield I was growing up in. But now it seems that the noise has drowned out the signal that once sustained me. And it seems like no one cares.
In fact, given the shiny new AI tools that seem aimed directly at destroying human connection — what is ChatGPT for, if not marketing copy? — it seems like we are about to drop off a precipice. The tech industry’s contempt for users has been a mainstay since the days of the Bastard Operator from Hell. It’s not just the C-suite; I have come to believe the average programmer hates me too and is willing to destroy my connections to my community in exchange for a nice paycheck.
I guess this is part of the turn toward group chats, isn’t it? I don’t use Discord because its UX gives me hives — too many notifications! — but I am in several friend Slacks, plus iMessage groups and so on.
Those smaller spaces are effective in making sure I talk to humans, but they also make the internet less useful. They’re like walled cities, with monsters prepared to annoy you to death lurking right outside the gates. The internet isn’t full of possibility anymore. It’s full of spam.