If 2003 was the year of music on the Web, with major labels alternately suing their supposed customers and getting into the game by supporting legal downloading sites, 2004 will be the year the spam finally hits the fan. Over the last 12 months, the epidemic of unsolicited e-mail has gone from a slightly annoying distraction to a full-blown crisis.
Our irritating friend from Nigeria with the intriguing, unfailingly polite request for your personal banking information has multiplied into an army of international scam merchants from as far afield as Thailand, New Zealand and, uh, Calgary.
The constantly changing subject headers that were initially intriguing and clever, tricking you into believing you were getting messages from long-lost friends, curious readers or concerned pals, have made filters inefficient, clogged in-boxes and found responsible e-mail users deleting entire screenfuls of lists of messages without reading any of them.
Everyone now has a story about going on holiday and coming back to 1,100 e-mails, mostly spam, and then being slammed with thousands more over the next few months because your auto-reply message has subscribed you to endless lists.
You think it’s bad now? You haven’t seen anything yet.
George Bush might swagger with his monogrammed pens and sign a bill making spam illegal, but it won’t do anything. Have you ever tried to return a spam e-mail? Just try tracking the sender down.
As the New York Times Magazine pointed out last year, there are a couple of identifiable big spam operators, but most work around the world, deliberately in secret. They won’t be found.
I predict, though, that by the end of this year the problem will be solved one way or another.
The sheer volume of spam is now unmanageable. It’s creating backlogs on office networks, time is being wasted deleting it, and suckers are still forking over their personal information to hucksters in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and beyond.
Twelve months from now, spam will either be manageable or e-mail will be different.
How? If I knew, I’d be writing this from an oceanfront shack in Cuba.
Apple will finally open its iTunes music store in Canada. Downloaders will weep with joy.
Illegal downloading on sites like SoulSeek, LimeWire and KaZaA will continue and perhaps even increase. Record labels will weep.
Artists will start to make single-oriented music, slowly abandoning the album as obsolete and irrelevant.
Cellphones will actually get bigger, as manufacturers try to cram more and more stuff onto a palm-sized device.
Someone famous will have sex, videotape it and then leave the tape on the kitchen table by mistake. The tape will come to the Web minutes later.
Happy new year.