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Fortress Around Your Inbox
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Several of the emails I've sent to folks I know in the past few months have bounced back to me with some variation of this message:

    "I must not have your email address in my contacts. In order for me to get your emails, please fill out the short form (see link below) so that I can add you to my list of allowed senders. Once you are approved, I will receive your messages.

    Sorry for the inconvenience, but it helps me to guard against Spam and Viruses."

Seriously? Approved? So that I can talk to you? My friend? The one who just emailed me with a question to which I cannot now respond until I fill out a form? Well, isn't that sweet?

I know, I know -- you get a lot of spam. Right. I run a handful of websites and have perhaps 15 public email addresses -- I receive in the order of 100 - 300 spam emails per day. You know how I take care of them? Spam filters. I download my email to Apple's "Mail" program, whose spam filter is truly excellent, but you all have spam filters, too. Gmail has an excellent, robust, free spam filter. Yahoo does, too. As do AOL and Earthlink. In fact, almost all free email services have them, many of them are quite good, and most are turned on by default. Sure, on a daily basis maybe 5 or 10 slip through my filter, and I have to manually mark them as "junk" (which helps my filter learn), or delete them. Sure, on occasion the spam filter weeds out mail I want. Sure, spam takes up space on my hard drive (or email account), so I need to delete it periodically, either manually or through automation. But 90% of the time this system works very well, and my friends don't have to jump through hoops to email me.

Oh, you say you're doing it to avoid viruses? Okay, well, how 'bout this:

  1. Don't open attachments from people you don't know
  2. Don't open attachments from people you do know, unless you were expecting them
  3. Don't use Microsoft Outlook's notoriously slipshod "preview" pane
  4. For goodness sake, it's 2005 -- if you work on a Windows PC, you must have good virus protection software installed
Will these measures protect you from viruses 100% of the time? No, of course not. But neither will blocking email from unknown sources. In fact, you are more likely to get a virus from a trusted friend than from a stranger, unless you are foolish enough not to follow #1 above.

Look, here's the deal -- if you want to set up such draconian measures as blocking emails from everyone who is not in your contact list, make certain your contact list is robust. When you send me an email, and I reply to it, and it bounces 'cause I'm "not in your approved list," what are the chances I'm going to visit a website, fill out a form and wait for you to respond so I can send my reply? I'll tell you what those chances are: 0%. That's right, 0%. If you want to build a wall and moat around your little email sanctuary, it's your job to build a door and drawbridge. Don't expect me to swim across the moat and bring my own ladder to scale the wall -- it's not my responsibility and I'm not gonna do it. You chose this "protection" scheme -- don't expect me to jump through hoops to get around it.

Oh, now you're sad you're not getting mail from me? You're upset that I didn't respond to your question? That's tough. You think it's okay to inconvenience the people around you to increase your convenience level? Fine. I'm certain many people will fill out that form, and await your approval with baited breath. I'm certain that it's so important that they get through to you that they will jump through those hoops.

Me? I've got a lot of friends who have sense enough not to build a fence around themselves without putting in a gate. I'll email them instead.

end of essay
David Nett Portrait David is an actor, writer and producer in Los Angeles. He's the founder and editor-in-chief of CSP, and a founding producer of the acclaimed Lucid by Proxy theater company. Despite all this, he still has to hold down a day job in the dot-com world, where he does product and interaction design. His acting has been called "committed," "detailed," "fearless," "hilarious" and "heart-rending" by the LA Times and Backstage West. His writing has been called "articulate and commanding" and "eminently readable" by Flak Magazine. His tenth grade Geometry teacher said he "does not work well in groups." | more essays by David
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