English-Video.net comment policy

The comment field is common to all languages

Let's write in your language and use "Google Translate" together

Please refer to informative community guidelines on TED.com

TEDSummit

James Veitch: The agony of trying to unsubscribe

Filmed
Views 7,207,034

It happens to all of us: you unsubscribe from an unwanted marketing email, and a few days later another message from the same company pops up in your inbox. Comedian James Veitch turned this frustration into whimsy when a local supermarket refused to take no for an answer. Hijinks ensued.

- Comedian and writer
For James Veitch, a British writer and comedian with a mischievous side, spam emails proved the perfect opening to have some fun, playing the scammers at their own game. Full bio

It's funny the things you forget.
00:12
I went to see my mother the other day,
and she told me this story
00:15
that I'd completely
forgotten about
00:19
how, when we were driving together,
she would pull the car over,
00:21
and by the time she had
gotten out of the car,
00:25
and gone around the car
to let me out of the car,
00:27
I would have already gotten out of the car
00:29
and pretended to have died.
00:31
(Laughter)
00:34
(Applause)
00:37
Because that's how you die.
00:47
(Laughter)
00:48
And I remember, that was a game
I used to play with myself
00:50
to entertain myself whenever
I was bored or frustrated.
00:54
(Laughter)
00:58
Settle down.
01:00
(Laughter)
01:01
People say we live in an age
of information overload. Right?
01:03
I don't know about that,
01:06
but I just know that I get
too many marketing emails.
01:08
I got a marketing email
from a supermarket firm,
01:10
which will remain nameless
01:13
for predominantly legal reasons,
01:14
but which I'm going to call "SafeMart."
01:16
(Laughter)
01:19
I got an email from them,
and it went like this, it said:
01:21
"Just three weeks until SafeMart
at King's Cross opens!!!"
01:24
And I resented this,
01:28
because not only do I not remember
signing up to that,
01:30
but I resent the fact
that they appear to think
01:34
that I should be excited
about a shop opening.
01:37
So what I did was I scrolled down
to the bottom of the email,
01:41
and I pressed, "Unsubscribe."
01:44
And I thought that'd be the end of it.
01:46
But a week later,
I got another one that said,
01:48
"Just two weeks
01:50
until SafeMart at King's Cross opens!!!"
01:52
And I thought, obviously,
I haven't clicked hard enough.
01:54
So I tried it again. Right?
01:57
Lo and behold, a week passes,
you guessed it,
02:00
"Just one week until SafeMart
at King's Cross opens!!!"
02:02
And here's the problem:
02:06
The internet gave us access to everything;
02:08
but it also gave everything access to us.
02:11
It's hard enough to discriminate
02:15
between the things that genuinely
matter in this world
02:16
and the minutiae of life,
02:19
without having emails
about supermarket chains
02:20
and Candy Crush Saga.
02:23
And I was really annoyed with them,
02:26
and I thought, OK, I was about to write
a strongly worded email,
02:28
which I can do quite well.
02:31
(Laughter)
02:32
And I thought, no --
02:35
I'm going to find the game.
02:37
So I replied to it, and I said,
02:38
"I literally cannot wait!!!!"
02:41
(Laughter)
02:43
"What do you need from me?"
02:47
They got back to me;
a guy called Dan said,
02:51
"Hi James. I've asked a colleague
to help me with your query."
02:53
(Laughter)
02:56
Like it needs help.
02:57
And I said, "What's the plan, Dan?
03:00
I'm thinking fireworks, bouncy castle ..."
03:02
(Laughter)
03:04
"I'm not sure what you mean."
03:08
(Laughter)
03:09
I said, "I'm just tremendously
excited about the opening!"
03:11
(Laughter)
03:14
"Do you want to book
the bouncy castle or shall I?"
03:17
He said, "I think you have misunderstood."
03:23
(Laughter)
03:25
"A new store is opening,
but there is no celebration planned."
03:27
I said, "But what was all the 'Three weeks
until,' 'Two weeks until' emails?
03:31
I was getting excited."
03:35
(Laughter)
03:37
"I'm sorry you're disappointed."
03:40
(Laughter)
03:41
I said, "Not to worry.
03:45
Let's do something anyway!
03:48
Besides, the deposit on the bouncy
castle was non-refundable."
03:51
(Laughter)
03:54
"If we don't use it, we're out
a few hundred quid, Dan."
03:58
(Laughter)
04:01
He said, "Mr. Veitch, I'm not responsible
for anything you have ordered."
04:04
I said, "Let's not get into who did what.
04:09
Bottom line: you and I
are in this together."
04:14
(Laughter)
04:16
(Applause)
04:19
"Question: Will you be there
to make sure people take their shoes off?"
04:23
(Laughter)
04:26
I'll be honest, then my relationship
with Dan deteriorated somewhat,
04:31
because the next email I got was this:
04:34
"Thanks for your email -
your Case Number is ..."
04:37
(Laughter)
04:39
That's outrageous.
04:41
I said, "Dan?"
04:43
(Laughter)
04:44
And I got -- and I was just like,
this is ... -- and I, I ....
04:46
And I said, "Danny?"
04:49
And I thought, this is terrible.
All I'm doing is collecting case numbers.
04:51
I said, "D-Dog?"
04:56
(Laughter)
04:57
"The store is now open."
05:00
(Laughter)
05:01
I said, "But Dan, they must have wondered
why there was no bouncy castle."
05:05
And then we were back to this.
05:10
And that might have been
the end of the story,
05:15
but I remembered
that anything -- everything --
05:17
even something as mundane
as getting out of a car,
05:21
can be fun if you find the right game.
05:25
So,
05:29
this is what I replied:
05:31
[Thanks for your email -
your Case Number is #0000001.]
05:34
(Laughter)
05:36
(Applause)
05:39
And we just, uh ...
05:44
(Laughter)
05:46
It was like we were dancing.
05:48
It was just a beautiful relationship.
05:50
We just kept going.
05:52
It was lovely.
05:55
But to be honest, guys,
it was quite labor-intensive,
05:56
and I had other stuff to do,
05:59
believe it or not.
06:02
So what I did is I have a little email
auto-replier program.
06:05
And I set it up so every time
it receives an email from SafeMart,
06:12
it just pings one back.
06:15
So I set it up, and it says,
06:16
"Thanks for your email -
your Case Number is ..."
06:18
Then it has a little formula that I wrote
to up the case number every time.
06:20
And I put it on the server
06:24
and set it running.
06:26
(Laughter)
06:29
I'll be honest, guys --
06:34
then I forgot about it.
06:36
(Laughter)
06:37
I checked back on it the other day,
06:40
and it appears there have been
a number of emails going back and forth.
06:42
We're on 21,439.
06:49
(Applause)
06:52
It gives me an immense
sense of satisfaction to know
06:59
that these computer programs
are just going to be pinging one another
07:02
for eternity.
07:06
And as legacies go,
I don't think that's bad.
07:08
So guys, just remember:
07:13
if ever you feel weighed down
by the bureaucracy
07:15
and often mundanity of modern life,
07:18
don't fight the frustration.
07:22
Let it be the catalyst
07:26
for whimsy.
07:28
(Laughter)
07:31
Thank you.
07:34
(Applause)
07:35

▲Back to top

About the speaker:

James Veitch - Comedian and writer
For James Veitch, a British writer and comedian with a mischievous side, spam emails proved the perfect opening to have some fun, playing the scammers at their own game.

Why you should listen

Packed full of Nigerian princes, can't miss investment opportunities and eligible Russian brides, James Veitch's correspondence with email spammers leads to surprising, bizarre and usually hilarious results. Out of this experiment came his first book, Dot Con. In 2014, his first solo comedy show The Fundamental Interconnectedness of Everyone with an Internet Connection, premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe to wide acclaim. His second show, Genius Bar, focussed on his time working for Apple, chronicles his attempts to fix his relationship using the same troubleshooting techniques he’d been using to fix iMacs, iPhones and iPods. He is currently writing his third show and preparing to tour the UK. 

He lives in London with his full body pillow.

More profile about the speaker
James Veitch | Speaker | TED.com