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modern legacy: spam

Although modern technology keeps moving forward at full speed, there are still plenty of legacy solutions and symbols that are resilient enough to stand the test of time. Like digital equivalents of living fossils, they have managed to survive the disruptive effect of technological innovation and still thrive in highly modern IT-environments.

In this series, we will take a closer look at some legacy icons, their origins, and the names behind them. This article will focus on an annoyance that we all have to deal with on an almost daily basis: spam.

Canned meat

“Well, there's egg and bacon, Egg and Spam, Egg, bacon, and Spam, Egg, bacon, sausage, and Spam, Spam, bacon, sausage, and Spam, Spam, egg, Spam, Spam, bacon, and Spam, Spam, sausage, Spam, Spam, Spam, bacon, Spam, tomato, and Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, egg, and Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, baked beans, Spam, Spam, Spam, and Spam.”

These lines were penned down and spoken by the brilliant comedians (John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam) of the Monty Python comedy team. The sketch is set in a café and has a waitress reading out a menu where every item but one includes Spam canned luncheon meat.

As the waitress recites the Spam-filled menu, a chorus of Viking patrons drown out all conversations with a song, repeating “Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam… Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam!” The legendary sketch made the salty, processed and canned pork and ham that listens to the brand name Spam (not exactly an example of fancy haute cuisine) world-famous.

Worldwide popularity

Spam was introduced in 1937 and gained worldwide popularity after World War II, despite its somewhat shady culinary reputation. The reason? It’s easy food that can be stored for a very long time, eaten straight out of the can, and cooked to improve some characteristics of its palatability. Spam even has its own museum in Austin (Minnesota), whilst the state of Hawaii holds an annual Spam Jam during the last week of April.

Unsolicited email

Because the Monty Python sketch repeated the word to infinity, spam also became the term to describe large amounts of unsolicited messages, especially in the realm of email. This solidified the place of spam in popular culture and the modern IT vocabulary. It is still the go-to term for one of the major annoyances that the modern homo digitalis experiences: the repeated posting of the same message in your inbox.

Spamming is economically viable because advertisers have no operating costs beyond the management of their mailing lists, servers, infrastructures, IP ranges, and domain names. It is also difficult to hold senders accountable for their mass mailings. Luckily, many modern email programs have become quite good at recognizing spam and tend to give many of the messages a one-way ticket to the folder with unwanted items.