The Software Genie



"If i had to pay for every mail i send, I'd look closely at my outbox and make sure that only the stuff I created goes out. Half the epidemic would be gone"There will be many who will call this stance "anti-consumer", but
the reason for this is simple enough–while e-mail has provided tremendous
benefits, it has also created huge costs. The amount of trash that gets
generated is simply enormous. I spend 15—20 minutes a day just deleting mail
that should never have reached me in the first place. It landed up simply
because somebody stole or sold (both amount to the same thing) my email address,
or it was very easy to mark a cc to me or it was in error or whatever… I am
sure a huge amount of this mail would have never reached me if the sender had to
pay for it.

For instance, I have just finished reading a mail from somewhere in the US
offering me loans for a house purchase. There is only one problem with that–I
do not stay in the US and have no intention of purchasing a house there. If the
sender of the e-mail had to spend a dollar to get the mail across, he would have
at least try to vet the addresses.

The problem is not limited to e-salesmen whom I can’t shoo away. There is a
huge amount of mail that is sent from within the organization. The typical one
being where someone wants to complain about something or someone–but does not
wish to make it sound like one. There are an amazing number of people who want
to be both rude and polite at the same time! Actually, it is more the fact that
they like to fire their guns from others’ shoulders. They generally make it a
habit to mark copies of mail to just about everyone. Some of them even mark a
copy to themselves with some kind of a code-word so that the mail gets stored in
the appropriate folder–never to be read again.

Then there are these virus epidemics which use e-mail as the primary vehicle
and send off messages to my complete address book. If I had to pay for every
mail that I sent out, I would look more frequently at my outbox and make sure
that only the stuff that I created goes out. Half the epidemics would be gone.
The problem does not end there. There are these enticing mails which invite me
to visit the website of the sender. Being human, I get enticed. And then I get
trapped. I visit the site and the related links and the referred links and…
the Web goes on and on. Now I know what the fly feels like.

Not that this issue is limited to e-mail alone. Content, in general, has
proliferated to an amazing degree. It has converted perfectly normal human
beings to become content hoarders. I go on storing stuff to be read on a rainy
day. If I was to try and read just 10 MB of information–that comes to
2,000-odd pages of text matter. That would need a large number of rainy days. On
the last check, I had more than 35 MB of ‘useful stuff’ to be read. Some of
it had remained unread for more than a year! I have promised myself that on the
first rainy day, I will clean this up by scanning all of it and keeping only the
most useful stuff. And this time I mean it.

And if you are thinking that that is all there is to it, you are way off the
mark. What about the useful stuff that is stored on hundreds of websites that I
have access to? And to top it all, they are all free. There is the latest news,
today’s news, analysis, home-maker pages, improve yourself tips (including an
amazing number on how to manage your time better), entertainment, travel and
more. The only thing they do not provide is time. That is my problem.

I wish there were sites for which I could pay but know that I am getting
value. Today, I do not know what is original and vetted content and what is
simply a cut and paste job from numerous sources without quality checks. In
other words–I do not know that the data or the facts that I am getting are
really data and facts. Somewhere along the line, free has created the problem of
plenty. Information is disseminated in the hope that someone, somewhere needs
it. It is searched for with the aspiration that somehow, somewhere, I will find
it. Both are very inefficient techniques.

So where and how does this end? For a start, it needs some iron discipline. I
must heartlessly use the delete keys and read mail/store data/visit websites
only when I have to and with a clear objective. Now that I know the trick, it
should be easy. It is amazing that not one self–improvement content ever told
me this!

The next is that technology has to step in. Technology has not created the
information. But it has certainly spawned it. So much so that the distinction
between information and trash is in the danger of being lost. Navigating the
information net that exists around us today with the tools available is the
equivalent of navigating the oceans by the stars–or even worse. The search and
organize tools are too basic. The directory structures, the data organization
techniques are either not there, or are too simplistic or too cumbersome. The
search techniques browse through millions of pages in seconds but do not
understand what I want.

I wish half the R&D dollars would go into the task of developing software
which understood my needs and got me what I wanted when I wanted it. I am sure
many people would pay for this genie.

Shyam Malhotra is
Editor-in-chief of CMIL, the publishers of Dataquest

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