A Shadow History of the Internet
MIT Press 2013
Finn Brunton‘s Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet (MIT Press, 2013) is a cultural history of those communications that seek to capture our attention for the purposes of exploiting it. From pranks on early computer networks in the 1970s to commercial nuisances in the 1990s to the global criminal infrastructure of today driven by botnets and algorithms, spam’s history surfaces and shifts with the Internet itself.
Spam is a lively book packed with tales of the people responsible for sharing and stopping spam’s myriad of forms in email, web sites and social networks. This includes everyone from programmers and security professionals, marketers and lawyers, and con artists and thieves to name a few. Each person has personal experiences with spam and opinions about when they’re being spammed, but Brunton, a professor at New York University, reminds us about the critical role that communities, organizations, and governments have played in regulating spam. Ultimately, the governance agreed to by these groups defines spam in the contemporaneous moment, but more importantly, shapes spam’s future forms. As long as open communication platforms exist, so will spam. It is more useful to treat spam as signal about the quality of our digital interactions. The more our attention is captured and exploited the worse our digital communities are functioning. Like the mysterious meat in a can (and with full appreciation for all the spam lovers out there), a digital diet heavy on spam isn’t just unappetizing, it’s unhealthy.