Reducing Spam, Noise, and Bacn

A surefire way to reduce the time you waste managing email, snail mail, and telephone calls is to reduce the number of low-value communications that you receive.  (The snail male and telephone sections will be United States-centric; Google for your national equivalent, and post it as a comment!)

Junk Mail

Junk mail is still a big problem, and it comes in two main forms: unsolicited commercial mailings, and prescreened offers for credit cards and insurance.  Fortunately, you may reduce or eliminate both types!

Prescreened credit offers are not only annoying spam, they can also be an identify theft risk.  To stop them, visit https://www.optoutprescreen.com.  This site is maintained by the four largest US credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and Innovis.  These companies collect information on your financial situation - what credit cards and loans you have, whether you pay on time, if you've ever declared bankruptcy - and sell the resulting credit reports to banks so that they can make informed decisions about who they lend money to (5).  By registering on this site, a notice will be placed in your credit report and you will no longer receive prescreened credit card and insurance offers, but it will not negatively affect your access to credit.  The registration process requires your name, street address, social security number, and birth date.  An online registration will stop the prescreened mailings for five years, with the option of mailing in a signed form to stop them permanently.

The Direct Marketing Association runs https://www.dmachoice.org/.  By registering for this site, you can remove your name from lists that companies use to send out unsolicited catalogs, magazines, and other mail offers.  You'll still receive catalogs and magazines from organizations that you have subscribed to.  Registration requires your name, street address, and a valid email address.  The site also offers you the ability to register for 'eMPS', an 'Email Preference Service' that companies can pay to use to clean their direct marketing lists.  It's unclear how many organizations actually use the eMPS list, but the site is verified legitimate by the FTC.

Email: Spam and Bacn

Email, email, email.  If you've already configured Gmail for greater productivity, a series of filters should already by sorting out low-priority mail - advertisements, newsletters, social networking notifications - into separate labels and skipping the inbox entirely.  This stuff isn't technically spam because you did consent to receive it, so a new term has been coined: 'bacn' (1).  From Wikipedia:

"Some examples of common bacn messages are news alerts, periodic messages from e-merchants from whom one has made previous purchases, messages from social networking sites, and wiki watch lists."

Even when it's filtered, low-priority mail still gums up your email management system by increasing your email volume, reducing the speed and effectiveness of mail searches, and making it easier to lose an important message in the flood.  It's time to cut the bacn.
bacn. not delicious.
(Before we get started, it goes without saying that email management is simplified by having as few mailboxes to manage as possible.  Forward redundant addresses to one main address and close old, unused accounts.  Yes: it's time for 'awsumd00d14@hotmail.com' to die.  Sorry bro, I know that address means a lot to you, but you're not reading my blog on Netscape over an AOL Internet free trial, watching Power Rangers and sipping Ecto Cooler.  Transfer your old emails over, let anyone who still uses your old address - and no one does, do they? - know where else they can contact you, check and make sure you've changed the email address on file for password resets, credit card bill reminders, or anything else important, and shut her down.  You only have so many seconds in life, and none of them should be wasted checking up on an old, dead email account.)

Open a text editor and switch your email to the 'All Mail' view to get an idea of the volume of junk you are dealing with.  Start by going through your messages and compiling a list of addresses associated with low-priority mail.  Don't delete or unsubscribe anything yet, just compile.

Once you have your list, start to order it by priority.  Are there messages you definitely want to continue receiving?  Subscriptions you could definitely do without?  Lists you'd like to stay on, but that send way too many messages?

Start with the lowest-priority messages and unsubscribe away!  Daily or weekly advertisements from stores you've never ordered from, updates from forums you never visit, etc - get rid of all of them.  Once you've confirmed that you're off a list, do a search for all of the messages from that address and delete them to reduce total email volume.  Delete old filters and labels that are no longer necessary.  (Note that I do NOT usually advocate deleting anything in Gmail, but this is an exception!)

Log into your social networking sites of choice and turn off all email notifications.  Virtually all sites have their own notification systems built-in, so why flood your inbox with more junk?  Search for and delete these messages too.  If you're a member of Google or Yahoo groups, visit their management pages and turn off email notifications.
RSS/Atom Feed Icon

By now you should be down to the subscriptions that you might consider keeping.  The key here is to move as many subscriptions as possible from email to an RSS/Atom feed reader program like Google Reader Feedly.  If you haven't already, install the feed reader extension for your browser (2,3); once installed, the feed icon will appear in the location bar when you're visiting a site that offers an RSS or Atom feed.  Click on the icon to add the feed to your feed reader's subscription list.  Basically all blogs offer feeds, as do many commercial sites - including Groupon! - and newsletters.  Once in an RSS reader, you receive updates that you can browse when you want to, instead of needlessly cluttering your email.

And there you have it: much, much less distracting email to deal with.


Telemarketing is much less common than it was in the past, but it's now easier than ever to opt out entirely.  The Federal Trade Commission, the United States consumer protection agency, maintains https://www.donotcall.gov/ (4).  By registering on this website, most telemarketing organizations will be prohibited from calling you beginning one month after you register.  If a telemarketer breaks the rule and you report them on the website, they may be fined up to $16,000.  There are some caveats: political organizations, charities, telephone surveyors, and companies with which you already have a business relationship may still call you.  Nevertheless, your junk call volume should decrease significantly.  Registration is completely free, and the only information you need to provide is the telephone number you wish to register and a valid email address.
Having trouble implementing some of these recommendations, or have other ideas for reducing spam, clutter, and garbage in your life?  Add it in the comments!

This post researched and prepared by Brandon Curtis; follow him on Google+
(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacn
(2) https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/rss-subscription-extensio/nlbjncdgjeocebhnmkbbbdekmmmcbfjd?hl=en
(3) https://addons.mozilla.org/en-us/firefox/addon/rss-icon-in-awesombar/?src=search
(4) http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0262-stopping-unsolicited-mail-phone-calls-and-email
(5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_bureau