Spam Invaders!

Less glamorous than The Matrix, more fun than Frogger, shooting down Viagra mail is my kind of video-game action.

Back when I grew up in the 19th centuryOK, the 1970swe didnt have video games. Or at least my family didnt go in for them. An Atari console made a brief, late appearance in our household, but it was a hassle to set up and interfered with what television was really made fornamely, The Rockford Files. During college and grad school, I allowed no Game Boys, no PlayStations, no Ms. Pac-Mans to distract me from my studies (or from reruns of The Rockford Files). Since becoming an office drone, however, Ive found spam, or, more accurately, spams found me hundreds on my machine each morning, with more arriving by the hour.

And I wouldnt have it any other way. Finally!a computer game that requires no complicated setup, no cables, no instructions, no notion of who Tony Hawk is. Zapping spam takes me back to my favorite childhood activitythrowing rocks at Canada geese to chase them off the lawnwith the same basic premise: Blasted invaders, begone!

My strategy is simple. Its all about the quick, intuitive glance and the short, blind reach to the delete key (generally with the right ring finger, occasionally the pinkie to avoid cramping). There are no running points tallies, but Outlook helpfully keeps track of unread messages, so you have some idea of body count.

Speed is everything. For the morning assault, I favor a swift, methodical purging of the inbox, like gunning down pimps in Vice City. But as with those rally driver games, its possible to go too fast and crash. Here, celerity must be combined with caution. Imagine youre typing on ice: Make no sudden gestures or movements; consider wearing a hat and fingerless gloves. During the day, I remain ever vigilant for the little envelope icon that indicates new maillike the first asteroid appearing at the top of ones screen, waiting to be atomized. Then its the crablike alt-tab maneuver to toggle out of a Word document, followed by the insta-decisionfriend or foe? (Ideally, you should never interrupt the flow of the sentence; treat the spam window detour like a breath or a semicolon.)

Of course, as with first- person shooter games, theres the constant danger of collateral damagekilling a good message along with the bad. Because I have ancillary e-mail addresses beginning with film, books, and dvd, I have to be alert for any missive bearing those terms. My fingers scream, Delete! while my mind asks, Could this be about that black-and-white, three-hour Norwegian movie on the decline of the herring industry during the 1930s that Ive been dying to see? Im torn.

But, as with any great athlete (like Michael Jordan or Tony Hawk, perhaps), its this pause that allows me to see new options, new openings, new spatial dimensions to the game. Time slows down as one enters what I like to call the zone. (This is something like Carrie-Anne Moss rising up into her slo-mo crane kick in the Matrix game and movies.) When in doubt, delete. Trust your fingers. Dont worry about being overzealoustherell always be more spam amid the next mornings e-mail.

And if one of those new, legitimate messages asks, How come we didnt see you at the screening of that black-and-white, three-hour Norwegian movie on the decline of the herring industry during the 1930s? I already have my answer prepared: Sorry, I didnt get the e-mail.

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