I have no idea what this means: ".................!! ..: ........h.., ...'.........h.. t........h..h.... "..., ...@...*....3544174036 ....". But vast numbers of such messages have been invading my inbox in the past year.
Initially, I wondered whether they were some sort of Morse-like cybercode. Perhaps a secret communication for the cyber elite. Of course they were simply more cyberjunk - spam - travelling vast distances for no other purpose than to be trashed.
But their numbers have got me worried. This is my seventh year of spam surveys - my annual trawl through internet sewers in search of meaning about the human condition, its motivations and frailties. And, if possible, to determine the spam trend of the year.
This year 28 per cent of my sample was of the ellipsis-comma-exclamation mark-random number variety. Add the 5 per cent that were in an impenetrable hieroglyphic font, plus a further 12 per cent written in a foreign language, mostly Chinese or German, and I had 45 per cent of spams without meaning or possible purpose other than deletion.
At least the rest, although they met the same fate, had a nominal raison d'etre: 15 per cent were exhortations to buy online Viagra or similar drugs; 12 per cent were invitations to visit websites that were bound to be dens of iniquity or sites that would infect your computer with something nasty; 11 per cent were from girls, often Russian and often called Terri or Brittany, who wanted a date or to send naked photos of themselves; and 7 per cent were the indefatigable Nigerian scams or variations.
The rest were a smattering of penis enhancement magic, phishing frauds to get bank account details, offers to get an online degree, great news about huge lottery winnings, and the mysterious "delivery failure" from email never sent. All standard spam stuff - with the general aim of trying to sell or scam.
I varied my spam sampling method this year, counting only the spam clever enough to elude the company spam filter. In past years I've counted both the trapped and unfiltered spam - the idea being to gauge the time it took 100 spams to arrive. In the process, I've seen the influx increase from 100 in a week in 2002, to 100 in 20 hours in 2007.
But today the company spam filter is so efficient that just three or four a day get through. And it's these, since the others no longer enter my consciousness, that I've decided to concentrate on. I first encountered the unreadable/nothing category of spam in my 2005 survey when it totalled 19 per cent. In 2006 and 2007 it had dropped to 13 per cent.
Over the years, my rigorous spam sampling methodology has demonstrated that spam is mostly consistent. All the usual suspects - porn, penis enhancement, drugs, investment opportunities and other scams are there every year, but in different quantities. In 2000, for example, cheap loans were very big. In 2004 it was online pharmaceuticals and 2007 was the year of inadequate dicks in need of improvement.
But this year - the year of punctuation-pocked spam - delivers the most disturbing trend yet. The spam zeitgeist of 2008 is nihilism. These incomprehensible emails en route to deletion are the perfect expression of a philosophical position that argues existence is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche saw nihilism as emptying the world, and especially human existence, of meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. When you think about it, that's a pretty good definition of spam.
But Nietzsche also warned that nihilism can become a false belief when despair at the pointlessness of existence leads individuals to discard any hope of meaning in the world and invent some compensatory alternative measure of significance.
Clearly, this is what's happening in 2008 - individuals, perhaps troubled by the gloom and doom ahead, are sending out emails composed of punctuation marks knowing that someone else will receive and delete them.
A sign, perhaps, of the end of civilisation as we know it - not with a bang, but with a final, despairing exclamation mark, comma, asterisk, ellipsis ...