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March 2, 2003

Received in the mail
Posted by Teresa at 11:26 PM *

You are a speaker at the 1956 Worldcon Banquet. You rise to display the great Information Utility of the Future. You load a page called

MAC OS X HINTS

The first headline reads

USE SQUID TO PERFORM UPSTREAM
WEB PROXY AUTHENTICATION

(Thanks, Patrick.)

Comments on Received in the mail:
#1 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 12:44 AM:

I was thinking of someone tapping in to the great Information Superhighway of the Future, and getting "Enlarge your penis" or an urgent message from a Nigerian general. Or a bunny in Japan with a pancake on its head.

I noticed that the one thing Murray Leinster missed in "A Logic Named Joe" was junk messages.

But then, were there many junk messages in 1946? There wouldn't be telemarketers (not for a few years). Was there much postal junk mail?

#2 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 02:31 AM:

I don't know about 1946, but by the early 1950s there was enough obnoxious advertising around to give rise to many SFish spoofs. Including an entire novel (_The Space Merchants_).

* * *

"Use squid . . ." Ah, just lovely. But I bet some SF authors of the period would "get it." Not what that means, but that some serious language drift was going to take place.

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 07:26 AM:

There was some junk mail in the 40s, though not nearly as much as in later decades. Newspaper and magazine ads, billboards, and radio ads were the predominant forms.

#4 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 01:10 PM:

Ads are not junk mail! If we're going to think about this stuff, let's get our terms straight. Junk mail is mail; it shows up in your inbox, whether that is a physical mailbox or part of your e-mail program. From a useful online History of Junk: "Junk Mail is sometimes called Direct Mail, but usually only by the people who produce it. It was invented in the U.S. at the beginning of this [sc. 'last' -- LH] century by a Mr. Sears, and it continues to grow: the annual figure for the US passed 70 billion pieces in 1995." I assume it would have been much more limited in scope in the '40s, but it would be interesting to find exact figures.

#5 ::: Cassandra Phillips-Sears ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 03:20 PM:

I want to do some research into my geneology over this summer. I really hope I don't find that guy back on one of the more unsturdy limbs of my family tree.

#6 ::: Bill Higgins ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 06:00 PM:

Stefan Jones writes:
> I don't know about 1946, but by the early 1950s
> there was enough obnoxious advertising around
> to give rise to many SFish spoofs. Including
> an entire novel (_The Space Merchants_).

And our hostess writes:

> There was some junk mail in the 40s, though
> not nearly as much as in later decades.
> Newspaper and magazine ads, billboards,
> and radio ads were the predominant forms.

In his (wonderful) memoir *The Way the Future Was*, Frederik Pohl has a hilarious chapter about his work writing direct-mail campaigns for Popular Publications in the Fifties. He'd write a couple of dozen postcard pitches, print up small batches, and send 'em out to a few hundred mailing-list prospects. The response rate would tell him which pitch was the best. Then Popular would do a really massive mailing using the most effective postcard.

Once, attempting to appeal to women, Fred decided to send out perfumed postcards. He got gallon jugs of the cheapest perfume available. Spreading out the postcards on a warehouse floor, he attacked them vigorously with a Flit gun.

On the train going home to New Jersey that night, nobody wanted to sit near him.

Fred got to see Fifties advertising from the inside. It's probably not a coincidence that he became co-author of *The Space Merchants.*

#7 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 07:33 PM:

Pohl's "The Tunnel Under the World" was undoubtedly directly inspired by the campaign-trial system Bill describes.

The one pitch I recall from Pohl's autobiography: A postcard, supposedly from the PM secretary who puts together the subscription list, sadly noting that she was asked to remove the subscriber's address plate, and would he please reconsider? She'd hate to seem him go . . . Hilarious.

#8 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2003, 09:36 AM:

Heinlein made a surprising number of accurate predictions in _The Door into Summer_, but one of the best was the bit where the protagonist travels a modest distance intot the future and can't make sense of most of the want ads.

#9 ::: Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2003, 12:43 PM:

Stefan:
I may never be able to forget "If you have a Triplecold freezer, it stinks! If you have an Ajax freezer, it stinks! If you have last year's Feckle freezer, it stinks! Your food will rot and you'll get sick and die!"

#10 ::: JeremyT ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2003, 06:17 PM:

According to my grandparents, where I come from, Junk mail like the sears catalog was eagerly anticipated. As free outhouse toilet paper. Something to read and use, so I hear.

#11 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2003, 07:08 PM:

"The Tunnel Under the World" is just BEGGING to be made into an episode of The Twilight Zone. (There was, as I recall, a radio adaptation of the story.)

#12 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2003, 09:57 PM:

Just in the last twenty-five years (yes, I have actually, as of a few weeks ago, spent a quarter-century working for the Postal Service; pardon me for a moment while I run around the room shrieking and gibbering), the percentage of "Bulk Business Mail" (we employees aren't supposed to use the "j"-word) has increased drastically. It's the (very large) majority, followed by business correspondence (bills, etc.), magazines, and dragging in a feeble last, personal correspondence.

Letters and postcards were a lot bigger percentage back twenty-five years ago. For some reason, customers were a lot less grumpy back then, too.

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