John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Friday, July 18, 2014

O brave new world, that has such pixels in it

The Internet is not as smart as it thinks it is. 

I know that we all crouch under the all-seeing eye of Mordor, our surfing and shopping monitored by our government, our email and search engine providers, the merchants with whom we shop. 

But if you look closely, you see slippage in the surveillance.

Item: The servers to which The Sun is connected are not in Baltimore, so when I go online at work, Google assumes that I am in Chicago. 

Item: I was once mistakenly put on a mailing list for an Atlanta swim club. (Have you ever tried to get your name off a group email list? It's worse than getting chewing gum out of the cat.) I think I finally extricated myself from that, but I still get come-ons from Atlanta businesses every day. 

Item: Amazon.com regularly communicates offers for me to buy my own book

Item: Nearly a year ago, AT&T confused me with one James McIntyre, who has, or had, an account with them, and started sending me his billing information. I was naive then, and I went to the AT&T website to remedy the matter. It was an electronic version of an Escher drawing. Email was equally futile. 

So I posted at this blog in September about AT&T's ineptitude. Apparently susceptible to public embarrassment, some functionary wrote and promised to clear the matter up. When I was still getting James McIntyre email in November, I posted again. I got a reply and assurances from yet another functionary. 

I still don't know whether James McIntyre's account is in order, and I don't care. Let the dead bury their dead. This morning I got another AT&T offer calling me "James."

The thing that will blind Mordor's all-seeing eye is the sheer volume of this stuff. 

At my work email, I delete scores of messages a day, many of them irrelevant to my purposes, many of only ephemeral importance. Recently, someone added me to The Sun's electronic tip line. Now, in addition to a daily flood of p.r. bumf, I am privileged to receive the pronouncements of every crank in Christendom, and I delete messages by the hundreds. 

I no longer even look at the spam file, which apparently purges itself every gigabyte or two. That means I shall never draw on that Nigerian banking account, but journalism trains one to live modestly. 

Yes, you are under perpetual surveillance and any sense of personal privacy you cling to is illusory. But be of good cheer: They are all inept.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed they are, as shown by the phrase "Federal Bureau of Ineptitude." Orwell's notion that "nothing in Oceania is efficient except the Thought Police" turns out to be just wrong: secrecy actually creates inefficiency, because nobody knows who can be trusted to actually do anything useful.

    When my parents were attending meetings of the Constitutional Labor Party (Trotskyist) in Detroit back in the 1950s, speeches used to begin as follows: "Comrades! Ladies and gentlemen! Members of the FBI, the CIA, ..." By estimate, one party member in three was a spy of some sort.

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