I went to a Chinese restaurant once in 2016. They noted down my phone number for their records. Ive never been there since; the food wasnt particularly good and Im not a big fan of Chinese food either. Plus, it was a different city from where I live. Yet, once every few months, the restaurant sends me a WhatsApp message with photos of whatever new dish or deal theyve introduced. This has been going on for four years now. I havent blocked the number because its become a tradition of sorts: they send me a photo, I look at it, curse half-heartedly, and move on.
Its weird how spam is just a normal part of life now. Every single day, I get about 10 phone calls from numbers I dont recognise. Five of those I answer and hang up immediately because theres music playing and a robot voice talking some rubbish with fake enthusiasm. The other five are real humans trying to sell me something, usually insurance or some bank-related stuff. I have a rehearsed answer not interested, thank you which I repeat more emphatically a second or third time if theyre persistent. Sometimes they ask me to hear them out at least, but I dont. Other times, they understand and cut the call, moving on to the next number on their list. Then I block their number, so they call me from a different number the next day.
Accounting for both call and SMS spam, I have so far blocked 376 numbers on my phone, a phone I bought less than six months ago. Even then, there are around 20 new additions to my collection every day. My morning routine begins with periodically deleting all the spam emails Ive gotten in the time I spent sleeping, despite the presence of a pretty vigilant spam filter on Gmail. On my phone, Im targeted with all the usual stuff: real estate, astrology, sexual virility assistance, insurance, credit cards, restaurant deals, lottery wins, friendship clubs. But a puzzling addition to all this is fish spam. For some reason, wholesale fish suppliers in Mumbai keep bombarding my phone with great offers for 10 kilos of surmai and pomfret. I have no idea why; Ive never bought raw fish in my life.
And yet, I rarely feel outright anger. Sure, its super annoying. But I accept it as just one of those things that happens a repetitive, ritualistic exchange that serves neither spammer nor spammee and one moves on.
Nothing meaningful
Which isnt to say that others dont feel rage. Some people get vindictive about it and in a misguided attempt at retribution direct their anger at the person calling them. But its mostly just a momentary need to vent; a fickle anger that doesnt lead to anything meaningful. Weve all just learnt to accept spam as a maddening part of everyday urban life. Like charging your phone. It sounds absurd only when you take a step back to think, Why are strangers calling or texting me around 150 times a week to ask for my money? That cant be a normal thing that happens.
Except it does. And I cant remember when the change took place. Phone and email spam have always been a thing; companies have been sharing our information behind our backs for years, and weve always been furious. Theres even a Do-Not-Disturb registry to which you can add your number for a relatively spam-free life. But for some reason, it feels to me like the past couple of years have seen spam rise considerably.
Loosely, Id say its because were now registered on so many apps for ordering food, for calling a cab, for hotel accommodation, for booking flights, for talking to friends, for meeting strangers, for putting up photos and videos, for counting how many steps we took today, for making payments, for listening to music so theres a much wider pool to mine our data from. And theres, of course, the fact that literally everyone (barring one entire former State) has quick and easy Internet access now. So it makes sense, on the surface, for companies to direct their efforts into spam marketing. But does it even work? How many people, out of the lakhs that they presumably target, actually pay up? It cant possibly be worth all the trouble. But who will tell them?
Akhil Sood is an author and freelance culture writer from New Delhi who wishes hed studied engineering.