Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Wednesday 16/11/2005The law of unintended consequences applies nowhere more starkly than in the attempts by the developed world to help the developing. This is the marshiest of quagmires, where motive, situation, capability and applicability are rarely what they seem.

Wednesday 16/11/2005

The law of unintended consequences applies nowhere more starkly than in the attempts by the developed world to help the developing. This is the marshiest of quagmires, where motive, situation, capability and applicability are rarely what they seem. Does the road to freedom lie through a $100 laptop, as Negroponte claims? Is the history of post-war food aid really one of disruption and collapse among indigenous farmers? And was the legacy of Live Aid the continuation of dangerously outmoded ideas of powerless victims fit only for the role of grateful recipients?

If a quagmire can have deep waters, then these are the quicksands over which the thin ice lies. And I have no intention of addressing them, except to say this: Geldof, you eejit. Haven’t you learned by now?

His Bobness decided, for reasons us mortals can only weakly grasp, to shoot his mouth off at a random target today. That target: emails. He’s not in favour. They pile up in his inbox, ruining his plans for the morning. They make him feel bad. He can’t cope. For god’s sake, don’t send me the fekking emails. And with that, he grumbled off.

I read the story and at once felt ely brush my soul. I knew what was going to happen.

Microseconds later, Outlook stirred in its fetid pit and chimed its little bell. Then it it did it again. And again. Like the first heavy raindrops at the edge of a torrential downpour, the noises built through an accelerando of apprehension to a crushing chorus of doom.

And then it stopped.

I didn’t have to look at the final message – I knew it had to be Exchange telling me my mailbox was full, and for once I was glad of Microsoft’s inability to write software that knew something of the recent history of disk capacity.

There really wasn’t much need to look at the pullulating pile of binary that spilled out of the edges of my filing system. I did anyway. Each and every one was from a PR, and each and every PR represented a firm that in some way did email management. I had no idea there were so many – I suppose the universities spew forth computer science graduates who cast hungrily about for the one good idea that’ll get them through the classic development cycle of inspiration, work, grow the company, get a name, get bought out by Bill, buy silly car. But because email management is so grotesquely dull, nobody ever talks about it and every compsci graduate thinks they’re the first one to come up with the idea.

Whatever the mechanism, they’re out there in their thousands. And they have PRs who battle daily with that dullness problem: Geldof exercising his stubbly jaw must have seemed like a message from God himself (no, you fools, that would be Bono). And as with one finger, they tapped out a press release and sent it to me.

So, thanks Bob. Your diatribe against emails has led to me receiving enough of the darn things in an hour to… to… there’s not even anything you can do with a dead email press release. In the old days you could at least have bought a hamster and a shredder and turned the A4 into bedding. Now you have to feed the hamster itself into the shredder. In some cultures that’s considered unethical.

Please. Next time you get the urge, oh massed army, think twice. If the story’s about emails being bad, send a gorillagram. Skywrite it. Pick it out in pink icing on a Dundee cake. Say it with flowers. Do an interpretive dance in a leopardskin leotard outside my window (even – especially – the PRs with beards). Record a cover of "(Tell Me Why) I Don’t Like Emails". Anything. But. Send. Me. An. Email.

Gah.

(*) Ely. The first, tiniest inkling you get that something, somewhere has gone horribly wrong. From The Meaning of Liff, D.Adams and J. Lloyd, which you haven’t read for ten years and will really enjoy leafing through one more time.

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