x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Spam taps and exploits the worst in human nature

Today, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, wrote to me. At least that's what it said on the e-mail that I found in my spam box.

Today, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, wrote to me. At least that's what it said on the e-mail that I found in my spam box. Despite the austerity measures that the government has recently announced, he is giving me an ATM card with a £5,000 (Dh29,000) daily limit. I can collect it from the foreign secretary William Hague by e-mailing back a copy of my passport. Alarm bells ring: shouldn't they have a copy already, them being the government?

Blog Blaster promises me two million hits on my blog. The US ambassador to Nigeria is just waiting, yes waiting on tenterhooks, to give me $5 million if I accept delivery of a package. And if you're too small, too slow or just too obsessed with the opposite gender, there are a whole range of drugs and stimulants out there for you, along with eye surgery, or losing weight at better prices than you could ever imagine. There are even a dozen suggestions on how I can work less but earn more.

I think I've become addicted to spam. In this universe, I could live the sensational life of James Bond with overflowing bank accounts, happiness and love, and those crucial better looks. This is a slick world that increasingly entices me to dip into it every day to see what unimaginable thrills the mere click of a mouse could bring me. I'm beginning to think that the version of Shelina that exists in the Alternative World of Spam is a far more exciting and glamorous one.

This glorious spam world is not without social conscience. It is in fact a God-conscious, spiritual arena. I received a heartfelt plea to help release $17m dollars which a woman's deceased husband had put aside for the establishment of an orphanage. She exhorts me, in the Bible's words, that "Blessed is the hand that giveth", and that she doesn't want her "late husband's efforts to be used by unbelievers and greedy individuals for selfish and ungodly purposes".

The Spamiverse is not religiously exclusivist. I also get requests to help with dying men's wishes to build mosques and Islamic centres, and humanists who want to save cancer patients. Or humanists and Muslims in collaboration wanting to solve the world's HIV problems. It's a very creative, community-minded and tolerant place. I cast my eyes over all the spam messages and feel warm and fuzzy at the world's possible perfection. Life is good in the Matrix-like universe of the Spambox, assuming we believe the superficial messages and fail to look deeper.

However, to accept at face value and click through the nefarious links would be hugely dangerous, and the illusion would be shattered. Don't click the links, whatever you do. Your bank balance will be drained. Your computer will be infected. Don't be fooled by the sweet words. Spam is all the evils of today's illusory airbrushed world rolled into one. It feels personalised, but it's not written just for you. You are just a commodity to be parted from its cash and self esteem. It promises impossible outcomes, appealing to the worst in human nature of greed and vanity.

Spam doesn't only exist in your spam box. Those TV ads? That billboard across the street? That political rhetoric? You didn't ask for it - it just arrived in your life. If it's too good to be true, it probably is. That piece of wisdom is the best, and only, thing to be gained from dipping into your spam. And that piece of wisdom applies to real life too. Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and writes a blog at www.spirit21.co.uk