Home » Apologies for everything » Is the internet drowning in junk data?

Is the internet drowning in junk data?

Some people are glass-half-full optimists, and others glass-half-empty pessimists. So it is said.

Although I have bogld before, the suggestion that, actually, it is the other way around. If you always regard your glass as half-full, you are essentially nullifying the possibility that the waiter will come along soon to top it up. On the other hand, if you are fretting because your glass seems to be half-empty, you have every expectation that it will soon be filled again, once he has got over the secret joy of spitting in your soup.

Something I have also bogld about before, is my optimistic belief that civilization as we know it is drawing to a close.

Not because of the IS barbarians knocking at the gates of Rome.

Not because of global climate change warming and the associated threat of suboceanic methane clathrates unleashing fireballs to devour our agreeable coastal resorts.

Not because fifty million people are sloshing about the planet with nowhere to lay down their pathetic bundles, driven from their homes by corporatist greed, gangsterism, devastation, desertification and despair.

Not because of the gleefully anticipated global pandemic as haemorrhagic pig-bird-donkey ‘flu mutates its nasty way into the human transmission chain by courtesy of Ryanair or FlyBe.

Not because the Liberal party has been decimated in England, or because the eagerly anticipated, rapidly developing, dead-cert for a punt, so-called ‘BRIC’ nations are all slithering into the economic doo-doo at the same time, or because the cradle of our civilization, Greece, is facing economic annihilation at the hands of hard-faced Prussian bankers.

No, I fear that what faces us all is the crisis of competence in our institutions, driven by the relentlessly optimistic accumulation of – junk data.

This morning, I received in the post, a form inviting – nay, urging me to register as a voter on the Electoral Roll. It’s the exact same form I signed and returned to the local authority just a week ago, confirming that I am indeed still living, still voting, and the sole occupier of this address. Indeed, it’s the same form I returned to them last April, in advance of the General Election. No new elections are anticipated, unless one might suspect the urgency to register stems from a secret Cabinet-office plan to go to the country again to obtain a more overwhelming Conservative majority in favour of building workhouses for the poor.

(At this point my train of thought is interrupted as, once again, Microsoft in its arrogance has shut down my computer without warning to force-install more ‘updates’ to repair new holes in its crappy software. Yesterday they did the same and something went wrong and it has left me without any Search facilities, and without the lovely ad-blocker program, which I do not find anywhere now, so my screen is cluttered with annoying pop-ups from every company I have ever had the slightest dealings with, that has left its stale Cookies somewhere under the car-seat of my system. I feel with bitterness that this all merely contributes to the thread of my argument.)

Three weeks ago, the selfsame local authority wrote to me, and separately to another man living in my house, someone I have never heard of, confirming that we are no longer liable to pay Council Tax. A day or two later, I received a demand to pay £118 a month to have my one black bin-bag taken away every other week (and to pay the police to do bugger-all about the traffic speeding through my street, a 30mph zone in theory only). I sent both letters back and asked which was correct? So today I have another letter explaining that, oops, my Council Tax account was accidentally cancelled, but it hasn’t been really – only kidding! Oh, and by the way, we’re sorry for the inconvenience. (Not a word of explanation. To how many householders has this happened, why and how?)

I have also been in correspondence with a bank, concerning the six identical bound copies of a global investment management company’s four-month old half-yearly report I received two-by-two over a period of five days last week. Without going into too much detail, this constituted around 360 A4 pages of completely useless, polybagged bumf I have never asked for, of which I understand about one word in fifty, and believe in even fewer. Thanks to my Council Tax, it’s been taken to the community recycling facility for more detailed evaluation.

And the bank cheerily emailed me back to say that, as the beneficiary of a small investment fund over which I have no control, as it is all managed for me at my expense, I ‘must’ receive the information; they have no ability to prevent me from receiving it, but I could ask for it to be delivered electronically in future – as if getting seventy or eighty Spam emails a day in my Yahoo! folder promising me riches, bitches, glitches and stitches isn’t annoying enough.

And, of course, I know what will happen if I do ask for it to be sent to me electronically: I shall be invited to register. Indeed, the information cannot be sent to me unless I register as a subscriber. If I don’t register, with a username and a password, they will continue to chop down whole forests and deploy a fleet of airmail cargo planes to deliver the information against my will, on paper, in sextuplicate. So, to avoid further environmental degradation, I must register.

And as soon as I register, the investment management company’s mailing computer will decide, won’t it, against all evidence to the contrary, that I am actually interested in the fucking information? And so they will send me even more information, optimistically imagining that I can then make more informed decisions about all this disposable income I am just itching to invest with them, out of my ten grand a year State pension? I don’t think so (snarl, gnash, dribble).

And how do I know this?

The real pandemic plague infecting the entire world, that will terminate civilization as we know it, is Internet Optimism.

We are drowning in optimistic junk data.

To illustrate: I’ve just answered the phone to a hopeful man from Acorn Stairlifts.

Answering the phone is a bit of a fag, honestly, as the phone is in the living room and I am in the studio and I have to leave the studio and go across the garden and down the stairs and through the kitchen to the living room, where the phone is. I can’t afford to get a BT phone engineer to come out and extend the phone to my studio, even if I knew how. I’m not a BT customer. My own service provider (for want of a more accurate description) employs an incomprehensible man in Bangalore who will, I know from bitter experience, avenge the British Raj by making me crawl about the floor on hands and knees with a screwdriver for half an hour, testing my sockets, and then force me to rush out and buy a new telephone, just to make sure it isn’t that, and insist on testing my line several times, before evenually, possibly passing my simple request for an engineer on to BT, who still monopolise the national wiring.

If I shut the studio door, I can’t even hear the phone ring. I should shut the door, really.

I’m not that interested in answering the phone, to be honest, although  sometimes I worry that it might be someone I need to speak to. The only calls I ever seem to get are either from salesmen (sometimes a computerised message, or silence) – or from optimistic punters hoping to book a table at Harry’s Bar, a watering-hole in the nearby town, which many years ago had the phone number I now have, and whose discreditable management refuses to remove it from old internet directories listing the local eateries.

In this instance, Acorn Stairlifts are just the latest in a growing number of hopeful stairlift companies that have been falsely persuaded into imagining I am just dying to buy a stairlift by a website they subscribe to, presumably at a cost-per-lead, that compares the prices of stairlifts; to which I made a perfectly innocent enquiry the other day to discover roughly how much stairlifts cost, as I have an elderly mother who might need one, should I someday have to force her to come live with me, given that we have nothing left to sell to pay for a care home.

In the metaphor-rich hierarchy of sales lead generation, my enquiry counts as pretty cool. In fact, I should say it has not yet started to thaw from deep frozen. When and if I do decide to acquire a stairlift, I can ask for one myself. I don’t need help.

But the emails and calls come rolling in just the same; all because, in order to obtain a rough estimate of the approximate someday cost of fitting my stairs with a lift, just so I know what else I might be in for if I have to convert my tiny cottage upstairs to accommodate a feisty, hard-drinking, heavy-smoking nonagenarian with all her fearsome marbles intact, I have had to pay for the information with useless data. Setting up an account complete with a username and a password, accepting having Cookies plastered all over my computer, giving the implicit (but as it happens, wholly incorrect) impression that I am deeply interested in stairlifts.

eBay, too, continues to email me news of exciting bargain opportunities, eight years after I was made to register in order to make a bid for an item on behalf of my then employer. Someone somewhere had that software you can get, that puts in a spoiling bid in the last millisecond, and I have not deigned to use eBay since. Likewise, Facebook imagines I must still be interested in Liking stuff, making invisible Friends or whatever, posting incriminating selfies, even though I registered years ago only under duress and used their site just the once to try to contact someone I knew, whose email address was firmly locked up in Mr Zuckerberg’s nightmare world.

And, for the same reason, I am still receiving annual ‘renewal’ reminders from online motor insurance companies I have never heard of, seven years after I foolishly dreamed one evening about possibly acquiring a pre-loved Jaguar car. I Googled a comparison website and clicked on Motor Insurance, only to see what it might cost to insure it. Since that fateful evening at the office, every insurance company in the world has presumably been paying Go Compare! a small fee for the entirely bogus information that your poor old Uncle Bogler owns a by-now decrepit Jag whose insurance policy is about to run out…. When in fact I bought a Mazda, whose annual MOT renewal date is heralded with pointless regularity by reminder texts and emails I get from a chain of fast-fit garages I used to patronise, even though I sold it again two years later – and they know that, because I have told them several times.

It’s just junk data that is relentlessly accumulating, clogging up every sales management database, and cannot ever be erased. Computers will dumbly continue to act on the initial data even if it is patently false, generating more costly and annoying muddle; in part because unscrupulous list-brokers hold huge, unwashed files of aged names and long-gone addresses, and sell them on to witless marketing managers.

We learn, do we not, that senile dementia is caused by the brain clogging up with inefficiently processed proteinaceous gunge. The internet as a form of mass communication may be only 25 years old, but it is already succumbing to the fashion for Alzheimer’s. I suspect that possibly 90% of the data on the internet may be just landfill, but there is seemingly no getting rid of it.

And the barbarians are knocking at the gates.










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