Every month, Gmail clears the spam messages from Joy’s computer. There were 12,544 of them, That’s an average of 400 a day. It was an ordinary month.

As usual, we were very fortunate: Our email address won several lotteries and we only had to pay the requisite taxes in advance to collect the winnings. In addition, several remarkably wealthy relatives we had never heard of had died and left us enough money to pay off the national debt of Bhutan. We didn’t even have to attend a reading of the will, but could simply show our acknowledgement by depositing some “good faith” money in a bank account that the writer could access. It certainly was a heart-warming month – except for the loss of the relatives, of course.

Spam filters aren’t new, but Gmail’s “Priority Inbox” feature is; Joy just started using it. Google says Priority Inbox users are more productive. They spend 43 percent more time on important mail as opposed to unimportant mail. (Who are they to say what mail is unimportant? They miss a lot of contest winnings.) Priority Inbox users spend 15 percent less time on email, they say.

Joy’s inbox is divided into “Important,” “Starred” and “Everything Else.” She tries to answer most of the priority mail each day, and then archives the rest in a designated “priority” folder she created. After a quick glance over the mail in the “Everything Else” category, she puts a check mark next to anything that looks interesting and clicks “move to” to move it to her priority folder. Then she clicks “all” to mark the remaining mail and clicks “delete.” (Poof!)

Bob isn’t using Priority Inbox. He likes to see a unified inbox and decide for himself just what’s priority and what isn’t.  Despite this rather cavalier attitude, the program learns from his actions by noticing what he deletes without reading or answering.

Ah, but one man’s (or woman’s) junk mail may be another’s path to fame and riches. If you hover over the yellow “priority” icon, you can read Google’s explanation of why some mail was marked priority. In some cases, it’s because of people’s names, in others because of key words. Often the mail is designated as priority because you corresponded with the sender in the past. Spam, alas, is slightly more difficult to define. You may be enchanted by constant offers to buy muskrat pelts or salami scented candles. If so, that mail can be saved.

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