The more I gain – I hope – in years, the more life teaches me there are some deeper areas of the pool where swimming is unwise. That even at my age I am naive enough to be caught by weeds.
For example, I should have learned by now that if I am offered something ‘for free’ it clearly isn’t. The extremely helpful young person at the other end of the telephone is not giving his advice for the good of his soul or mine. He is setting me up for a sale.
I spent a few sleepless hours this week, like many of you I suspect, very unwillingly wiping off my beloved XP in favour of a more up-to-date operating system. Why? Because Microsoft is withdrawing support for XP in April. Throwing us to the wolves, so to speak. For every hacker, spoiler and troll out there, April is a red-letter month. It’s a situation peculiar to our times, when you come to think of it, this sophistication of the delayed sentence – being given notice. A bit like being suspended in a cage over a bear-pit, and being told the door will open in three month’s time.
Anyway, here I am with a new, less user-friendly operating system. I will get used to it. But I have lost a couple of functions due to outdated drivers, and I have to seek new ones.
Okay, I’m tired. I have work mounting up so I don’t have time for endless searching. I browse, but I don’t scroll far enough down the page. I cough up twenty quid, reluctantly. I buy in.
I am told I must ‘validate’ my purchase with a unique code – by calling a toll-free number. Warning bells! Alarm! Screeching cries from some rather odd-looking birds watching from a nearby branch. I should leave this alone, right now, but I have spent twenty quid. I take the bait.
Suddenly, I am going everywhere but towards the two drivers I wanted. Mr. Helpful is inside my computer, moving my cursor around, even telling me off, mildly, when I try to move it for myself! Any moment I expect to see his face grinning out at me from inside my screen! He tells me my computer is unstable, it is riddled with disease: he shows me banks of red warnings for programmes he says are about to collapse. But fear not, he assures me, his technical department can put all this right. For $299.99.
I wanted two drivers!
I got twenty-first century rape!
Fortunately, I am just wise enough to have ducked out at that point. Wise enough to reboot and do a full scan in case my helpful friend has left a little something for me to remember him by. Many, though, may not be so circumspect.
Fear, whether we like it or not, is the sales tool of the century. Predators are always there, ready to prey upon our ignorance whether we are buying a ‘healthy option’ in food, or a car, or a solution.
And is there some kind – any kind – of moral code?
The answer, it seems, is no. I ran across a website the other day claiming to list symptoms for those anxious to know if they have cancer. It was a pay site!
Once upon a time, I had no objection if third parties wanted a certain amount of information about me: after all, if I had nothing to hide, why should I worry? But then, I once believed that in human behaviour certain scruples were endemic. Common manners. Basic etiquette. I was wrong.
A couple of days ago I heard a radio pundit declaring his appreciation of ticket touts. If they were able to sell him a ticket he could not obtain by other means, then why shouldn’t they make a profit? They were only trying to make a living. They were in business, just like anybody else.
Business? We might accept (because we are forced to) the commissions exacted by ticket agencies; but then to pay three or four times the original ticket price to someone who has deliberately squeezed the market by buying up large blocks of seats? That is not ‘business’. That is predation.
You rarely meet these guys in person, by the way: in case you wondered, they only go out at night, and their canines are suspiciously long and pointed…..
So I’ve changed. Now, I object to anyone knowing anything about me apart from those details willingly given in my bio. Every time I am asked a question I tick off a little checklist before I answer:
Is this information necessary?
Why do you want to know?
How many people or businesses will share in this information?
How can you, or they, use it against me?
How many pestering, unnecessary, and inconvenient telephone pitches will I get?
In a world where touting is considered legitimate, where information about fatal illness has a price, and where invasion of privacy is an accepted sales tool, I am becoming a very private, reclusive man.