~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ eye WEEKLY December 22 1994 Toronto's arts newspaper .....free every Thursday ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
eyeNET has received almost a dozen press releases from different net.Santas. Are we not yet all weary of this proliferation of Santas stinkin' up the net? Every time you turn around, one more online "Santa" is pleading altruism and a humanitarian desire to Help The Children.
Many are marketing scams.
Suggesting Santa is "noncommercial" is ridiculous. Santa's the symbol of crass consumerism -- overfed parent figure doling out store-bought products. O Holy Night. Yee-haw.
But the underhanded nature of some of these net.Santas irks more than a few -- including Karen Kostaszek (firstname.lastname@example.org), director of the SchoolNet Support Group and president of Ingenia Communications. Ingenia is the independent consulting firm that pitched the idea of SchoolNet to Industry Canada about two years ago. SchoolNet has a slew of newsgroups in the can.* hierarchy -- things like can.schoolnet.math, etc.
Kostaszek wrote email recently: "As you may be aware, many Santas have recently appeared on-line. We have uncovered the fact that some are actually promoting the sale of `I emailed Santa' buttons, and that kids that send messages to Santa get the advertising before they get a reply (if they get a reply)." It started when an Ottawa primary school teacher wanted a class to write email to Santa. The CBC brought a camera to film the event for an O-Brave-New-World story. Teach called SchoolNet for a Santa email address to write and was given email@example.com -- which had been mentioned in the Ottawa Citizen.
Teach soon called SchoolNet back, angry. Upon sending Santa email, each kid received the exact same automated reply from "firstname.lastname@example.org" -- saying something like, "Ya, Santa got your letter, but he can't answer right now 'cause he's out loading the sleigh." Mr. Elf then tries to sell the kid a "commemorative button" proclaiming "I emailed Santa" -- $5 for the first button, $3 for each extra. VISA, cheque or money order accepted.
Hall says his company, NorthPole Productions, has been overwhelmed with email and has no choice but to use automated replies, "because we are now receiving over 2,000 messages per day for Santa." So when will Hall have time to deliver personal replies? April? Meanwhile, why not flog some merchandise, right?
"We get really frustrated when we are trying hard to promote educational networking and something like this happens," Kostaszek told eyeNET in a phone interview. "Teachers are wary of getting on the net to begin with, then they find this kind of thing. It destroys our whole initiative."
Kostaszek was so pissed off at this blatant front for direct sales to children she suggested people might want to mailbomb northpole.net -- though she eventually retracted this statement.
Mailbombing is where you send scads of email (usually just junk files) to an address, hopefully choking the target. They idea is that if thousands of people sent a meg or two of garbage info to email@example.com, that would get the attention of the recipient. It can be grassroots activism. It worked well against net.sociopaths Canter & Siegel -- the carpet bombing crashed the host system so many times the system deleted C&S's account permanently: mission accomplished.
Business culture is used to callous TV-style advertising -- clubbing people over the head remorselessly, and they can't do a damn thing in retaliation. On the net, the public can mount "from-below" campaigns and send thousands of angry letters. You're on an equal footing with business and business better listen because the public can hit back hard. And after decades of being helpless, there's a lot of pent-up anger waiting to be tapped. Business best tred carefully.
Kostaszek is cognizant of the fact shopping mall Santas are also commercial shills, like firstname.lastname@example.org . We all know that, which is the point. We know what we're getting from mall Santas. Email Santas are new and parents should know their kids are being directly marketed to by "elves." Next year, SchoolNet might approach Canada Post about providing their traditional Santa service on-line. "That way, everyone can keep their Santa services, but users have a choice of a noncommercial forum for sending email to Santa," Kostaszek says.
The First Church of Santaism practises two fundamental rituals: exchanging presents and laughing at Satanists who can't spell. Accept no substitutes. Read newsgroup alt.religion.santaism for heated discussions of fundamental First Church dogma. Currently, debate rages over the important theological question: "Does Santa have a penis?"