Urgent: This is Not Spam

Joe Lavin's Humor Column

From The Boston Metro

Urgent: This is Not Spam

August 22, 2003

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A new survey has determined that junk e-mail now costs employers $874 per year per employee in lost production. Nucleus Research came up with that figure by conducting "in-depth interviews with 117 employees at 76 different US companies." This is hardly the only study about spam this year, which leads one to wonder exactly how many dollars are lost per employee just from surveys about spam. And how bored do these people have to be to participate in an "in-depth interview" about their junk mail?

According to Nucleus Research, the average employee receives 13.3 pieces of spam a day and spends an average of 6.5 minutes deleting those messages. Basically, that means that each employee is spending almost thirty seconds to delete each piece of unwanted e-mail. I don't know about you, but I can usually delete my spam in under five seconds -- ten seconds for legitimate e-mail. What's taking these people so long?

Apparently, there are actually some who spend up to 90 minutes a day dealing with spam, which makes one wonder if workers are quite so angered about this as their employers. Perhaps there are some who view another e-mail from Nigeria offering $20 million as a welcome respite from the workday rather than a nuisance.

It is possible that soon better filters will eliminate most of our spam and free up those six and a half minutes a day for other pursuits. (Forwarding chain e-mail, perhaps?) The real problem will be the false positives -- the normal e-mails that are blocked by filters. Pity the poor doctor who actually has to send a legitimate e-mail about viagra.

"I marked it urgent. I don't know how you could have missed it."

Granted, spam is a serious problem, and I don't mean to defend it. I just find it tough to get worked up over. Years ago, employees wasted hours wrestling with typewriters and carbon paper. Now, we lose a few minutes a day from spam. In the end, we probably come out ahead.

By the way, Nucleus Research came up with the $874 by figuring out that we spend 1.4% of a 40-hour workweek dealing with spam at an average pay of $30 an hour. Using similar methods, we can also determine that:

Finally, here's the most interesting part of the survey. Nucleus Research has found that for every 72 employees there is the equivalent of one employee who is unable to do any work just because of spam. I wonder if anyone is taking applications for that job, because I think that's a position that I would really like.

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