Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Robotic correspondence

In my e-mail in-box this morning was a note from David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times reporter.

The e-mail bore the note line “NOT for posting.”

I’m not quite sure what to make of the contents, which I will dutifully not post. But I will give you the gist of the brief message allegedly from Johnston.

First a little background.

Nearly four years ago Johnston wrote an incisive, upsetting book, “Perfectly Legal,” about how corrupt our tax system is. The book’s subtitle is “The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich - and Cheat Everybody Else.”

I’ve never met Johnston, and I’m certain he didn’t sit down at his computer yesterday to write me this note, which is nothing more than a pitch to read (and comment on) his next book. It is called “Free Lunch” and will be published in December.

That last sentence is pretty lame “buzz” if that’s what the e-mail was trying to generate. Who knows how many thousands of bloggers found the same message from "Johnston" in their in-boxes this morning.

The e-mail also included three links to recent stories Johnston has written for the Times. I’d read all three when they were published. I do admire Johnston’s work.

Several things about this missive give me pause.

It addresses me as “Mr. Seifert,” which a computer program obviously can do. It also makes reference to the fact that the new book starts with a story out of Oregon. Again, a computer can search blog authors’ profiles for that kind of information and then tailor a letter accordingly. I believe the word in the trade is “personalize.” I call it computerized pandering.

But then, in the middle these machinations, there’s a typo. A glitch. I often make those here when I am rushing to get something posted. Glitches like this aren’t made by computers. At least not normally. Could this be a contrived error, for verisimilitude? Anyway, the typo, whoever or whatever made it, did make me wonder, momentarily, whether possibly, just possibly, a person might behind this letter. Not Johnston himself, but someone paid to pump these little promos into the blogosphere.

It’s all quite clever and probably sells books. or jewelry, deodorant or political agendas.

Am I not now writing about “Free Lunch,” if only in an off-hand way, making it part of your consciousness? Given what I know about Johnston’s work, it may well be worth looking at.

Faint praise to be sure, but praise none-the-less. Better than nothing.

Finally, there’s another concern. I’ve mentioned before that I have a site meter recording the number of visits to this blog. It is running, on average, about 50 a day, but I have no idea what that means. Old Internet hands have cautioned me that many of those “visits” are by “bots” or robots. I’m certain that a searching, computer-driven “bot” discovered my “David Cay Johnston” tag from an earlier post, gathered in “Oregon” from my profile and then spewed out the letter, or the raw material for a letter.

So will 50 of you read this post?

I doubt it, and my doubt is greater today than it was yesterday.

As for those visits by sentient beings, I’m certain one by David Cay Johnston isn’t among them. Johnston has better things to do than to write me about his latest book. At least I hope he does.

I would suggest, however, that he take a moment to question the wisdom of allowing his publisher’s promotion department to send out fabricated e-mails purporting to be written by him.

Labels: , ,


Blogger davidcay said...

Delightfully hilarious and whimsical.

David Cay Johnston

11:18 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home