There is a discussion on a list I belong to about how pervasive automation is becoming in our lives, particularly the online advertising industry, and if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Although I haven't posted my opinion to the list, I am kind of inclined towards the notion that, at least for now, the flesh and blood machines are still in control and that it is only when we misuse technology we get in trouble.
Here is a wonderful example. A story ran recently on WebProNews.com partly about French President Nicolas Sarkozy captured on video (subsequently posted to the Web) responding to a fisherman protesting high fuel prices who insulted the president. Sarkozy challenged the fisherman to "Come down and say that. Don't think by insulting me you will solve fishermen's problems."
Considering how most politicians talk off camera, I thought this was pretty tame stuff, but the Socialist party tried to capitalize by saying Sarkozy was not acting like a head of state and he should improve his behavior. They were not the only ones trying to take advantage of the situation. Below the Web Pro News story was this posted "reader" response:
By Michael (WPN reader) - Tue, 02/26/2008 - 9:55am.
I'm sure the fisherman had his reasons to protest the high cost of fuel... Fishermen make a living on the water. If the cost of fuel inhibits their ability to derive a profitable income, then it is a matter that should be looked into. Fishing is one of the GREATEST sports known to man. If you aren't a fisherman, you should watch this video!
M.D., President & CEO - Penfishingrods.com
If your life is empty enough to try clicking on the link, you will find a nearly 5-minute amateurish video commercial for fishing rods starring none other than the president & CEO of Pen Fishing Rods. You might want to watch just to confirm that the president & CEO of Pen Fishing Rods is indeed a moron -- since he sees no distinction between commercial fishing and fly casting on the weekends, and sounds like a GED would be a stretch for him.
Somebody, somewhere told the president & CEO of Pen Fishing he has to "be part of the conversation," so he clearly set up an automated search for anything online that mentions fishing, and he sits all day and tries to draw some sort of connection, no matter how tangential, from the use of "fishing" in a sentence to his products. It is transparent, makes him and his company look foolish, but hey, perhaps once in a while he gets a sale from someone otherwise drawn to read about a French presidential political feau pax. La merde se produit, eh?
Meanwhile the president & CEO of Pen Fishing Rods can tell his buddies that he is "all over the Net" with his video and his commentary. Yes, so is Britney Spears, pal. This schlub is not the first or even the biggest to misuse the Web to try and make a buck. It wasn't so long ago that Wal-Mart allowed its global PR firm to stage a fake RV "tour" to talk to happy Wal-Mart "customers." So what, right?
This brings us back to that automation idea. The easier it gets to automate search and automate responses, the more idiotic and meaningless story forums will become. Already they are a dumpster for ideologues and hucksters. If a publisher has the resources and inclination to edit out postings that contribute nothing to the dialogue, they'll have the ALCU burning crosses on their lawns the next night.
Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of this nation and of the free world. Unfortunately, it doesn't also guarantee freedom from claptrap.