I’ve never really understood the meaning of ‘shrewd’. Webster’s dictionary describes it as, “marked by clever discerning awareness and hard-headed acumen , given to wily and artful ways or dealing”, but for me it has only ever been considered a mild form of socially acceptable paranoia. For a start, reading the ingredients on the side of a box of cornflakes for most people is a space filler. It passes the day. Other people actually care – maybe they’re vegans and they don’t want to poison their Soya milk. The more anal amongst us (I’m now standing, proudly waving my arms) are actually curious as to what’s in it. And in some cases, it doesn’t make for good reading. If I stumble across a foodstuff that I adore, which it turns out has got more ‘E’s in it then 90’s pop sensation East 17, it ruins the taste. Call it psychosomatic – because it is – but the flavour inexplicably changes.
In the wacky, wibbly wobbly world of the web, packaging takes on whole new forms. A ‘shrewd’ purchase no longer involves the ability to search out the small print – it turns you into a fully-fledged private detective. So you want to join this new ‘free’ ISP. How much will it cost? But how much will it REALLY cost? Are they a good company? Who owns them? Are there any reviews? Are they from magazines? Who owns those magazines? Is it fast? Who says so? Do we trust them? What about bulletin boards? What do other people say? Is that newsgroup moderated? Are those postings false? Is it all a big scam? HELP ME MUMMY! THEY WANT MY CREDIT CARD DETAILS AGAIN.
In the internet world at the moment, the NBT (next big thing) is 0800 access. Oh yes. We all want it because we all NEED it. And all of a sudden, there are hundreds of companies offering it. But, hang on, this offer doesn’t exist yet. And this COMPANY doesn’t exist yet! And they want to change my telephone company? I remember writing a shortlist and looking at all the what-ifs of completely ‘free access’. If I took the worst case exceptions to all the services out there, your ‘classic’ 0800 provider would give you unlimited 24 hours a day 7 days a week access – so long as you changed your telephone company, fitted a box to your wall, paid a 50 pound joining fee, made 20 pounds worth of calls a month, bought 45 quid’s worth of clothes, subscribed to a motor racing magazine, bought a new PC and took out a 120 grand mortgage. If I had a definition problem with ‘shrewd’, just look at the grief some people are having with ‘free’.
It all reminds me of about 1 year ago when I moved house, and I found an old box I used to hold books in. It had previously held an external SCSI hard drive for my old Atari ST. Big box. But best of all, was the writing down the side, where the company had happily splashed, “Monster 20 Meg drive!” on it. And as an after thought, “ALL YOUR STORAGE PROBLEMS SOLVED!” It’s a frightening thought, but it looks like these people found long-term niche jobs in the service industry.