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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


Published in the August 2003 issue of the Canadian Nuclear Society Bulletin, Vol.24, No.3.   Artwork by Lorne Whitlock.

The Spam Economy

by Jeremy Whitlock

It all started innocently enough.

Nobody could quite say when the spam emails first made their appearance; in fact, it almost seemed like they'd been a part of office routine forever. With little thought, and only slight annoyance, employees had learned to pre-filter their email first thing each morning, rooting out the sales pitches and lewd propositions from the genuine pitches and propositions of everyday business.

The spam grew. The time required to deal with it grew. The techniques grew in sophistication, until even seasoned spambusters found themselves inadvertently opening invitations to try Viagra at fire-sale prices. The sad tale of Omar Haatu, and two-dozen other Nigerians with strikingly similar money troubles, was known to all. The whole world seemed to be enlarging certain body parts, while decreasing others with miracle diet pills.

And then a strange thing happened. The employees began to look forward to the morning cull. It imparted an odd sense of achievement, a reason to start the day. Management came to recognize the advantage of this, and even held back on plans to distribute anti-spam software. "Sorry, we cannot disposition that query", employees were told, and secretly they were relieved.

Here was empowerment, in a system that increasingly valued process over progress. Technical reports took ages to release, but each morning six screens of detritus could be dispatched in a half-hour's romp. Here were no pestilent Microsoft templates to tangle with, no Byzantine company procedures to humour. Here a swath through insignificance was hacked with the slightest flick of an index finger.

Drunken with victory, employees barely noticed as more and more administrivia was downloaded their way. The standard conduit of inconsequentiality, Quality Assurance, was soon swollen to overflowing. There was talk, and talk, and talk. The employees listened, and trained, and dispositioned.

One had to be seen to be listening, and training, and dispositioning. The more you listened, and trained, and dispositioned, the better. At the end of the day, when the rubber had truly hit the road, the optics-driven bottom-line deliverable of this client-focussed, value-added, proactive, best-practice, synergistic paradigm was the Banner. The Banner hangs outside the box, declaring sameness (or as the Greek say, "ISO").

The Banner is special because it is made from magical thread: only those worthy of their position can see the importance of the Banner; those who can't are truly fools. Thus, the forms flowed and the employees marched. They marched into training rooms and sat for hours in rooms with air-conditioning systems that had been broken for weeks, and learned about Quality.

They wrote down everything they could possibly say about what it was they were doing, or planned to do, until it seemed they were seldom getting around to actually doing it.

They began to sense this and tire of the task, even with the excitement of the spam hunt each morning. Management then offered a new challenge, guaranteed to occupy the keenest of minds: employees were to become their own administrative assistants. They learned, through extensive training in stifling hot rooms, how to electronically enter their timesheets, expense claims, and purchase orders into the company computer system, using one of the most obstructive user interfaces ever devised. They were well and truly busy.

And then one day, a young boy arrived for "Bring Your Child to Work Day". He was proudly shown the arrays of paper, the training certificates, the mission statements, vision statements, quality pyramids, and planning matrices. And he was shown the Banner.

The boy looked around and exclaimed, "But you have no product!"

There was stunned silence, for all realized that surely this young child must be telling the truth. They looked at each other and felt shame. Then they sent the boy home and cancelled "Bring Your Child to Work Day", and from that moment on never allowed another visitor to their site.

They went back to their computers. Mrs. Mariam Sese-Seko Mobutu was looking for assistance. A new guaranteed dating service was starting up. Black-market Viagra prices were at an all-time low.

Discussion welcome.

©2011 Jeremy Whitlock

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