My post today: Letters that reveal life in AD 2006

I received five pieces of post through my letterbox this morning, and as I was going through them, they struck me as the perfect analogy of what my life is like at the start of this year of 2006.

Here they are in no particular order:

This one most annoyed me but at the same time, cheered me up. McDonalds the vast multi-national corporate machine has been humbled and now has to throw its billions of marketing dollars into persuading to go to their restaurants to eat their foul muck.It’s a joke of an ad campaign. “Packed with quality” is the message, just below the irritating and stupid “I’m lovin’ it” catchphrase. The fast-food joint now has “Deli Sandwiches” and a new Egg and Cheese Bagel. The leaflet comes with a detachable “£20 of savings” – vouchers that let you buy bundles of their “food” for lower-than-normal price, valid from yesterday to the 19th February.

The vouchers will work of course, because people are thick. But I like to think of this clearly expensive campaign as indicative of a wider trend of society taking more care of what it eats. Hopefully the idiotic and shameful depths to which our food industry have slumped will be removed. If McDonalds doesn’t find these marketing dollars are turning into new sales, it may have to consider – gasp! – producing half-decent food.

Whatever it cost the company to send me the leaflet however was wasted.

The most stupid of the bunch. The tale of the failing Mukka Express never stops. To recap, I bought the cappuccino-maker in October, and returned it, by recorded delivery, in November because, well, it didn’t work. It was, in fact, rubbish.I heard nothing at all. I’d sent a letter with the returned machine. I’d sent two emails to the company I bought it off – Red Monkey Coffee. Nothing. Then, in early January I received a bizarre Jiffy bag from a company called La Cafetiere that contained nothing but a franked label and a sticker for its address. I could only assume that it was to do with the Mukka. So I sent the company an email explaining everything. And have still heard nothing back.

Then, again out of the blue, I received an email saying I’d been refunded for the machine, and another email from Red Monkey Coffee apologising, making weak explanations for their failure to contact me, and asking me to remove the word “bastards” from my blog.

I’m pretty certain that, despite all my efforts, it was in fact my blog that had sparked them into action. So what am I supposed to make of this, again from La Cafetiere (who the hell are they?): “Dear Kieren, So sorry for the delay in sending you the return labels. We were sorry to hear your Mukka was not working. Please find enclosed a franked labels for you to return the goods. Kind regards, Suzanne.”

But I don’t have the machine. I sent it recorded post to Red Monkey Coffee – the people I bought it off – two months ago. I see this whole letter as indicative of two things. One, modern companies indifference to customers until they make a fuss or risk embarassing the company and therefore reducing sales. And two, how modern technology is destroying everyday normal interaction – why didn’t they just call me on my telephone and discuss this?

A cheque from News International for a story that the printed Times took from the online Times. It seems that The Times is running a two-tier technology news approach. And I understand the paper side doesn’t like the online side. This is clearly insane but a great indicator of where we are with the media and the Internet.Anyway, I was commissioned and wrote a piece on the .xxx domain for the Times Online, which the paper side saw and decide it wanted as well, so it ran with it. I was told and told I would get paid for both. I was also asked when I started chasing payment if I wouldn’t mind calling up the paper side to find out how much they were going to pay me.

As it turns out, the derisory sum of £40. I should point out that to get this story, I had to be on the ground in Vancouver – a 14-hour plane ride with one stop away. It cost me £750 to get there and stay in a hotel. I then had to use my contacts to get the story, and then my laptop to write and send the story. This amounts to £40 worth of value to The Times.

Not that I didn’t also sell the story – and others – elsewhere, but it gives a good example of how the economics of newspapers these days almost determine the fact that so few stories are dug out and that “free” news – i.e. press releases and corporate bunkem dominate a media whose claimed reason for existing is to inform people.

Still, at least the cheque arrived and I don’t have to waste several hours chasing up a measly bit of chump-change out of principle.

Utter rubbish. A really cheaply produced, poorly laid-out, poorly-written scare piece of junk mail. Loads of scaremongering about how dirty your house is with magnified images of dust mites. What is interesting though is that only five years ago, I could have expected dozens of these sorts of rubbish. No one bothers anymore because it costs money.You can send one million emails for 1p. Why waste 30p sending a bit of paper? I have no idea why I received this. I can’t only expect I’m on some database or that some TV programme on at the moment is doing a similar scaremongering job and people are panicking and looking for cleaners.

Who knows, who cares? The bin.

This is a great example of how companies are (ab)using the Internet. It is an invitation for an “Earning Priorities Club” card. It comes from InterContinental Hotels, and it’s their loyalty card of sorts.I know exactly how I got this. But the interesting thing is that I’ve not stayed at an InterContinental hotel this year, maybe not for a few years. Maybe never.

Where it has come from is the company’s website. I was trying to book a hotel in Geneva last minute in September, or maybe Luxembourg in July. Anyway, the town was booked up because I had left it late as usual, so I was touring around the Net trying to find a room.

InterContinental’s website makes you hand over personal information including name and address before it even lets you see if there are rooms available. I usually supply phoney information. I have a range of pseudonyms and a range of addresses, some real, some made-up. But if you want to actually use your credit card, you have to give the right details.

Even with my real information though, I still go out of the way to click (or unclick) any boxes about sharing your information with “third parties”, “preferred suppliers”; “hand-picked ethical washerwomen” – whatever nonsense term they use for people willing to pay them enough for access to their database.

Since I needed a room though, I gave my real details. If I remember correctly once I’d got through to the actual website, the hotel was so ridiculously expensive that I simply shut the window down and continued looking elsewhere.

But that doesn’t stop the company sending me crap in the mail months later. I shan’t even look at it out of principle, and I most definitely will not supply my details for a hotel chain before they’ve even told me if they have vacancies and what their prices are again.

So there you have it. Life in 2006, straddling the period before the Internet rockets and reflecting the changes that are coming our way, whether we like it or not.