From Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet by Finn Brunton pg 197. The thesis of this impressive book is that what we call ‘spam’ is fundamentally a deliberate and disenguous violation of salience: it’s because of the vast array of new instances of salience being opened up, in which we search for and have a reasonable expectation of locating relevant material, each one providing an opportunity for us to attend to something in this new digitalised archive.
Spam persists and diversifies because we are living through a major, complex transition in the constitution and management of our own attention, a transition moving faster than our governance, our metaphors, and our software can keep up with. Spammers—the disbarred lawyers, impoverished con artists, would-be pornographers, credit card thieves, and malware coders—are the avant-garde, the wildcatting exploiters of this transition. They find domains where salience is being generated, whether in a comment thread, a search engine result, a social media platform, or your email inbox, and move to commandeer it. They are the crudest and most abject form of this capture, from students pranking each other with the words of a Monty Python sketch to global botnets producing more email than everyone else on earth, every single day. In their crude way, they show the rest of the online population the network’s new capabilities, the new forms of attention and community experience, which we have not yet fully understood.
As he puts it on pg 199: “Spam is the use of information technology infrastructure to exploit existing aggregations of human attention.”