austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

We're the pattern people

I'm very nearly sure I saw some good news and although I can't find it again I can live with my memories. It's about handling e-mail, one of the most difficult tasks of modern life, topped only by all the others. E-mail was a popular method of communication employed from 1996 to 2007 and still used by the occasional technological laggard, like me.

These days my e-mail is mostly offers from some mysterious organization offering valuable points in exchange for my not qualifying for surveys. This has been going on for years, and they keep finding my age and profession don't qualify me for the real survey. I wonder what the real surveys are like. It's probably like high school parties, where other people had ones with music and games and fun and mocking of teachers who in moments of weakness showed personality, whereas mine were mostly unattended affairs highlighted by copying The Wrath Of Khan from one videotape to another. But now copying it from DVD to DVD is too much bother. Why do these e-mail survey invitations have to taunt me with the prospect of exciting surveys, leaving me to just copy the words ``The Wrath Of Khan'' over and over again?

E-mail's communications role has mostly been taken over by instant messaging, Twitter, sullen silences, and eye-gougingly stupid comment threads, so it leaves the question why I'm always buried in hopeless piles of old letters, some dating to 2003, that want answers. Some of it is my working habits; I just feel reluctant to get out my writing desk, sharpen my e-quills, and extract and warm up the ink jar to write an incomprehensible scribble on parchment under the impression the letter 's' should be four lines of text tall. Plus I want some e-mail for which I can answer, ``North Dakota in the year 1822'', which I've been saving for nearly two decades now without finding what it answers.

Clearly something must be done so it's best it's not being done by me. Some researcher in an article I'm sure I didn't imagine thought of automatic responses. Her idea was, the main content in an e-mail is actually not the content but the subject line, something like ``Coming to the dinner Thursday?'', with the body of the letter all sorts of padding and apologies for not writing sooner and asking whether you qualify for a survey about Thursday (I don't, but I once got to a supplementary qualifier for a survey about Wednesday, which I didn't have time for, so I wrote in ``potassium citrate'') and the remnants of a joke forwarded so many times that there isn't any joke left anymore, just a long series of Forwarded By: warnings.

Anyway, once you give that question an appropriate answer (``Please take me off your mailing list before at least one of us is bludgeoned''), anyone else who asks the same question should get the same answer. So all that's needed is something like a search engine on your incoming and outgoing e-mail, and just as you can now give Google a few words from a song you kind of heard and will get back 15,000 pages of advertisements, twelve of which have inaccurate lyrics on them, other people asking if you're coming to the dinner Thursday can get back a Flash advertisement promising that they really, truly are the 1,000,000th person to see this banner ad and have won a valuable survey.

Best of all, there's clearly no way that having an automated system trying to figure out the meaning of your e-mails and composing and sending out responses without your conscious thought can ever possibly go wrong. As soon as the system gets a few lingering quirks worked out (the researcher discovered those valuable points can mostly be exchanged for 10%-off-one-item coupons at Michael's Arts and Crafts stores, and she's got all the plastic flowers and glass beads she needs, what with having any) it's sure to take over my communications needs, maybe freeing up the time so I can finally watch The Wrath Of Khan.

Trivia: Ted Williams's number in the 1940 draft lottery was 648. Source: 1941: The Greatest Year In Sports, Mike Vaccaro.

Currently Reading: The Game Makers: The Story Of Parker Brothers From Tiddledy Winks To Trivial Pursuit, Philip E Orbanes. And Parker Brothers did not initially market Trivial Pursuit, nor did the game appear until several years before Parker Brothers ceased to be an independent concern. Just saying.


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