Tag Archives: chain letters

Annoying get-rich-quick schemes

[Begin rant]

I got an email yesterday, the content of which goes as follows:

In 2011,  July has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays, and 5 Sundays. This apparently happens  once every 823 years!  This is called ‘money bags’.  So send this on to 5 and money will arrive in 5 days. Based on Chinese Feng Shui, the one who does not pass this on will have money troubles for the rest of the year. Had to pass it on, just in case!

I’ve probably written about email like this before, but seeing another of these in my inbox annoyed me enough to rant about it once again. Let me enumerate all of the ridiculous things that bug me about messages like this, starting with the simple things.

  1. Any 31-day month that begins on a Friday will have 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays. July isn’t unique. March 2013 will have 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays, for instance. So will August 2014, May 2015, and January 2016.
  2. People believe what they want to believe without question. “This apparently happens once every 823 years.” Seems like an odd number, so I checked. A quick search of WolframAlpha told me that July 2016 begins on a Friday, which means it has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays. That’s only 5 years from now, not 823 years. Also July 2o22.
  3. The message implies that if you follow the instruction, money will arrive in five days. Of course it will. For one thing, “arrive” is vague. It could mean a windfall. But if you send the message off on Sunday, five days later is Friday for many people, Friday is payday. The message doesn’t indicate how much money will arrive. It leaves that up to the recipient to image the mounds of cash that will rain down upon them.
  4. The message also implies something that really grates at me: to get money, you don’t have to work for it. Working for money is for suckers. Why work for it when you can annoy your friends by sending them chain emails?
  5. Worst of all, perhaps, is the vindictive nature of these messages. For those people who recognize the messages for the frauds and farces they are, for those of us who don’t pass along the message because we don’t want to bother our friends with nonsense, we will have money trouble for the rest of the year. It’s not enough that those who follow the instructions will get money in five days, but those that don’t will have trouble.

Well guess what. I am tempting fate. I am not forwarding the message to five people. (And what if I sent it to 25 people? Would I have money trouble then, too? The message doesn’t say “at least five people.”) Of course, I don’t get coffee beans in my Sambuca; if I break a mirror, I don’t think twice about it; if I spill salt, I clean it up. If I should have money trouble for the rest of the year, it won’t be because I didn’t forward this message.

Look, folks, I’m not looking to get rich quick. I don’t see any satisfaction in unearned windfalls. I want to get rich slowly, with the satisfaction of knowing that I worked hard to earn the money and provided some useful service in return. So if you are thinking of forwarding one of these messages to me in the future, do me a favor and send it to someone else–or better yet, think twice before sending the message at all. It saves us all a little bit of time, and time is the one thing that we have that can’t be replaced.

[End rant]

Your phone will ring!

I am fascinated by chain-letter type spam because it shows just how gullable people can be. In my junk mail folder this morning, was a message with a subject “FW: FW: This is SOOOOOOO Creepy” and the gist of the message was that if you read the entire message and made a wish, your wish would come true within minutes.

Now, it is my experience that wishes come true only through hard work or random chance. So natural, I was fascinated by how reading an email message and making a wish would make it come true. So I read the message.

First of all, there is a science to this, and this science is, apparently, predictable. There are even equations involved. For instance, to find out how long it will take for your wish to come true, simply take your age and convert it to minutes and you’ve got your answer. I am 34 years old and therefore my wish, should have come true within 34 minutes. The younger you are, therefore, the quicker your wish will come true. This means that people with the least amount of wisdom and experience will get their wishes granted faster than those people with (presumably) the most amount of wisdom an experience. Even in chain mail wishes, there is no justice in the universe!

Then there is the documentary evidence that this work. For instance:

I’m 13 years old, and I wished that my dad would come home from the army, because he’d been having problems with his heart and right leg. It was at 2:53 pm when I made my wish. At 3:07 PM (14 minutes later), the doorbell rang, and ther was my Dad, luggage and all!!

Presumably, in this case, it was okay that it took 14 minutes, instead of the predicted 13 minutes because, you know how clocks are always off and who knows what time it really was. What I don’t understand is that this youngster wished for his (or her) Dad, and yet what they got was Dad and his luggage. That’s going the extra mile, wish-wise, if you ask me.

Maybe this did happen. Maybe the phone did ring as soon as someone made their wish. But as a skeptic, I can’t believe it had anything to do with the making of the wish itself. The fact is, there are two explanations that make much more sense. The first is the fact that we internalize information subsconsciouly all the time. We might, for instance, hear our mother talking on the phone to our father and while we don’t hear the entire conversation, we can piece together the fact that dad is coming home soon. Then we start to wish Dad was coming home, and a few minutes later, there he is. It was not the wish but our subconscious knowledge that he was already on his way that did the trick.

The second explanation is probably even more common. Plain and simple coincidence. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, but there is no necessary connection between making a wish and having that wish come true–and when it does happens, very often it’s a coincidence. For some reason, however, people feel the need to place some kind of otherworldly value on coincidence when none belongs there. Flip a coin long enough, and you are bound to get twenty heads in a row. Nothing magic about it, it’s the law of averages. So you make enough wishes (or buy enough lottery tickets) and you are bound to win something. And if that winning is associated with our desire to win, then one must have caused the other. I think this is nothing more than an illustration of just how egocentric we are.

In any event, the instructions were clear. I needed to make my wish. I closed my eyes, made my wish, and scrolled to the end of the message. Apparently, however, wishes don’t work for “non-believers”. I wished that I would stop getting all forms of nonsense spam. I didn’t have to wait 34 minutes to find out if my wish had come true. Two minutes later, another piece of junk found it’s way into my junk folder.

But maybe that’s my fault. After all, I didn’t follow the instructions completely. I was supposed to forward the junk to 10 or more people within 5 minutes of making my wish, and this I simply didn’t do. The message indicates that if I don’t do this, I will have bad luck for years. Apparently, it’s right on target there, as I am still getting annoying spam.

Incidentally, why is it that the wishers can’t be happy with getting what they want? Why do these silly messages always have to punish those who don’t forward them with years of bad luck? Isn’t it bad enough that you didn’t get what you wished for in the first place? Whatever happened to the Golden Rule? Or for that matter, common decency?

Just wishful thinking, I guess.

Back on the chain gang

I received a chain message today, the first one in quite a while. It’s one that I’ve received before. It claims be advice on how to live your life fully. There’s no harm in that. Someone cared enough to forward it to me and that’s nice too.

But these things really annoy me because they preface their sage advice with warnings of impending doom if you do not forward the message to everyone you know within the next 6 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, there is a carrot too: your life will improve if you send it along to the people you care about. I don’t believe that one way or the other, but the current incarnation of the message takes exception to this:

It must leave your hands in 6 MINUTES. Otherwise you will get a very unpleasant surprise. This is true, even if you are not superstitious, agnostic, or otherwise faith impaired.

Well! I am not superstitious, and I’m exceedingly agnostic. I’m not even sure I understand what “faith impaired” means. Is it like “vision impaired”? I take some exception to the fact that if this message doesn’t leave my hand within 6 minutes, I will get a very unpleasant surprise.

Of course, I don’t actually believe that I will get a very unpleasant surprise. The fact is, I may very well get an unpleasant surprise, but there is no causal relationship between the unpleasant surprise and my lack of action. Instead, it would merely be an unfortunate coincidence.

People want their lives to improve, but they don’t want to do the work necessary to improve them. Instead, they want to forward an email around and wait for the improvements to happen as if by magic.

Not all of the “advice” in the message is bad. Some are more amusing than others, however:

Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.

Certainly getting the chain letter was more than I expected. I don’t know whether the sender was cheerful when they sent it. One might deduce, however, that they were desperate to improve their life.

Marry a man/woman you love to talk to. As you get older, their conversational skills will be as important as any other.

As an alternative, marry a man/woman to whom you like to write or send email. As you get older, you will have someone to whom you can forward all of the chain email letters you receive. The reciprocal nature of the relationship should, according to this chain letter, doubly improve your lives together.

Don’t judge people by their relatives.

Relatively speaking, I’d say this is good advice. But why limit it to relatives? Why not simply say, “Don’t judge people”?

Don’t believe all you hear, spend all you have, or sleep all you want.

This is my favorite. Don’t believe all you hear. I wholeheartedly agree, which is why I don’t believe any of the rewards and admonitions contained in the chain letter. What is particularly amusing about this statement is not that it contradicts the spirit of the chain letter. Instead, its the mutual exclusivity of the statement. Note that it’s not an “and” statement, but an “or” statement. Essentially, what this is saying is: choose one of the following: don’t believe all you hear or spend all you have or sleep all you want. Why can’t you do all three?

Actually, maybe it makes sense after all. If you choose not to believe all you hear, then by definition, you may choose not to spend all you have and sleep all you want. If you spend all you have, you will clearly not be able to sleep all you want because you will working three jobs to get back what you had. If you sleep all you want, however, you will have some trouble spending all you have, especially if you sleep a lot. So maybe that’s a good thing.

But really, what’s the big deal? It’s just another chain letter, one of many. Doesn’t it count for anything that someone thought enough of me to forward this along to me? After all, it means that there are people out there who are thinking about me. Well, it’s a pleasant thought, but skeptic that I am, I simply don’t believe it. Why?

The message was sent to “undisclosed recipients”, which means it was BCC’d to a long list of people. 9 out of 10 times, that means that someone sent the message to everyone in their address book. There may be people in the address book that haven’t been thought of in years. It’s possible that’s not the case here, but I’m just too skeptical to think otherwise.

I think the list of advice for leading a happy life is missing one item:

Always be considerate of your friends and family; never send them chain letters.

I realize that mine is probably not the most popular opinion on the matter, and that people might even find my attitude rude. Well, I’m sorry about that, but that’s how I feel about chain letters. Want to show someone you care about them? Be honest with them.