Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Junk culture

Fine in a fritter, but not in the inbox
One of the greatest delights – I use the word loosely – on returning home after any sort of trip away, is the Everest of mail that has accumulated.

Wading through, it’s quickly clear that the overwhelming majority of the pile is utter and complete junk.

When I’m ‘in residence’, the chances are that I’ll unlock the door every evening to find that, if there is anything on the mat, it’ll be yet more junk.

Now I know that the flats stand on the site of a scrap yard, but the amount of crap that lands through the door is just taking the piss.

Given the number of trees that have been sacrificed to tell me that there are special offers at pizza and kebab and fried ‘chicken’ outlets, plus the menus from Indian and Chinese home-delivery takeaways, you could be forgiven for thinking we must be surrounded by them, which is not quite the case.

Is there some sort of equation that balances the number of ‘jobs’ created for people to shove such junk through doors with the impact on the environment of all this printed dross?

Would the economy actually suffer if all this rubbish simply wasn't even printed any more?

Not that it’s just junk food that’s advertised on the junk mail.

We get assorted other offers and opportunities, including quite a few from varied flavours of the God Squad. There may be few old-fashioned churches in the area, but those rather more modern evangelical, all-singing, all-dancing congregations are on the rise, meeting in everything from community centres to former industrial units.

Still, at least if they’re shoving stuff through the door, they’re not actually knocking on it. Although they do that too on occasion.

There are few political callers, even at election time: perhaps they're all too embarrassed.

But junk mail is hardly limited to what comes through the letter box.

I doubt that I’m alone in getting irritated by online junk mail – or spam, as it’s often known. And it’s not limited to stuff appearing in my inbox.

Facebook has become particularly bad, with ‘suggested posts’ cluttering up timelines.

These seem to largely consist in advertising absolute tosh. The ones I get are particularly of the get-very-slim-very-quickly variety.

And I get more, presumably because a bit of software somewhere has noted that I comment on them – which is sort of amusing, because what it appears not to spot is that my approach is of commenting that they’re exploitative, snake oil bullshit.

It frankly astonishes me that these con merchants are even allowed to advertise. I suspect, though, that they’re mostly not based in the UK and are not, therefore, liable to UK laws on protection of consumers.

Still, as long as Facebook is making money out of ‘companies’ exploiting vulnerable people …

And let’s be completely clear about this: the people who will respond are vulnerable. You have to have reached a point of desperation where you’ll try anything to conform to societal expectations that are frequently completely unrealistic and even downright unhealthy to respond to such ads.

You can not, as one advert suggests, lose 30kg of “belly fat” in just a few weeks. That’s something like three of the biggest bags of cat litter I can get – and there are not many people who will be carry that as “belly fat”.

And if they were, no doctor on planet Earth would recommend trying to shed it all in something like three months by taking some crackpot supplement that’s probably about as efficacious as if they were made of the same sawdust that finds its ways into the counterfeit fags that are made in China.

Then there is all the spam for ghastly-looking leggings that apparently “burn calories”. No. No they don’t. That’s as impossible as muscle turning into fat.

How do people get to make such patently false claims – openly and in public, and then charge the vulnerable/gullible? Oh, and it’s fine to say people should exercise personal responsibility, but why not some business responsibility too?

Some businesses that make false claims get dealt with – they get dragged into court and are penalized when trading standards can get hold of them.

Yet patently false, exploitative spam is not merely allowed in social media, it’s foisted onto your personal timeline.

Now I appreciate that Facebook needs to make money – it’s not a charity. And I have no issue with that. But as far as I was aware, it was making money – and plenty of it – before it decided to foist spam on people in this way.

This isn’t about freedom of speech – it’s about patently false advertising claims.

So, what to do about this deluge of crap.

I am wondering whether to put one of those labels on the letterbox at home: the one that says: ‘no unsolicited mail’.

And if I then continue to get flyers from estate agents who desperately want me to let them sell my home, I’ll pop them back in a postbox with a fucking brick attached and the postage unpaid.

But since I use Facebook, in part at least, for work-related matters, it’s not simply a case of stopping using it.

Perhaps Facebook would like to operate a little bit of corporate responsibility, for a change? It’s a nice thought.

And while we’re at it, what about all the free bloody magazines and newspapers?

I actually got on a bus one night in London a few years ago (on the way home from a Divine Comedy gig in Camden, as it happens, with the excellent Duke Special as support) to find that the bus was almost knee deep in discarded such freebies.

Only a few mornings ago, coming down some steps near Euston station, I was faced with three people trying to shove three different publications into my hand from right, left and directly in front of me.

That was after someone standing outside WH Smith tried to hand a leaflet for weight loss.

Is all this throw-away matter indicative of a generalised junk culture? I leave the answer to you, but it does feel like it at times.

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