We're checking a story that's come in from the US. It's about RFID tags, and says the usual:stuff: inventory control, exciting replacement for bar codes, supply chain management. So far, so… uh, wake up at the back there.
But one line catches our eye: "Coke cans all have the same bar code". They do? A furious debate kicks off in the office, with the more eager debaters diving down into the can recycling bin to find evidence one way or the other. The results are inconclusive, but eventually the old journalistic instinct reasserts itself. Why not phone Coca-Cola and ask?
So I do (not that it's a slow Friday or anything). There's a Customer Information Line advertised on the side of the can, so let's start there.
"Hello. Coca-Cola. Jonathan here. How can I help you?"
"Er, bar codes. On Coca-Cola cans. They all the same?"
"No" The answer came back, instantly. "Different bottling plants in different territories have different codes."
I said thanks, and we had our answer. It was only afterwards that I realised two things: he hadn't looked it up, and his voice had the flat, desperate tone of a man staring eternity in the face from a Basildon bedsit. How many questions can there possibly be about Coca-Cola? Ten? Twenty? And how do you cope with having to answer them, day in, day out? If ever there was a case for technology being used to free humanity from intellectual slavery, here it is: no conscious entity could be expected to endure.
"That must be the most boring job in the world," I said, loudly.
"Oh no it isn't!" said the normally quiet Amanda of production, with more emphasis than necessary. I don't think she was editing anything of mine at the time, but I didn't like to ask…