Say what you want about state government. We may be going broke, taxing ourselves to death, cutting vital support for higher education, lowering standards for local education, and watching our roads crumble before our eyes, but we sure have public relations down to an art.
Within a 24-hour period last week, our governor managed to free up enough staff time, which otherwise could have been devoted to these and other problems, to breathlessly announce, in a series of separate e-mails, each of which we received multiple copies of:
- Adoption Month (which, within hours, his Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services also had something to say about).
- American Indian Heritage Month.
- Kansas Home Care Month.
- Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.
- Prematurity Awareness Month (which his Department of Health and Environment also announced 11 minutes later).
- Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Awareness Month.
- Radiologic Technologist Week.
- Kansas State University Social Club Day.
- And a proclamation, albeit with no specifics and not even a designated day or a week, of continued statewide commitment to child health and wellness, whatever that means.
With most seeming to merit a month, we have no idea why radiologic technologists got only a week, K-State socializers got only a day, and child health and wellness got neither.
What is a sociable, Native American radiologic technologist who graduated from K-State and uses home care for his adopted, premature child born with reflex sympathetic dystrophy supposed to feel — honored, slighted, or simply used by a system that seems to substitute proclamations of sympathy for actual help and support?
This new spam-orama seems to be replacing actual leadership in the state. Never mind actually doing anything. Just spend your days issuing proclamations, going on “listening tours” (i.e., campaigning for re-election), creating new bureaucracies supposedly to cut old ones, and filling media e-mail accounts with so much spam that journalists will not have time to notice that there is a lot more talking than doing on every official’s schedule.
The spam bug has bitten not just the governor. Our daily e-mails, which absent anti-spam software would number in the thousands, include hour-by-hour schedules for a whole host of lower-ranking state officials who, despite seeing how their days are spent, we have no idea what they actually do other than employ a raft of spam senders at state expense.
Even local groups are getting in the act. We received, to the same e-mail account on the same day last week, four identical versions of a mass e-mail, sent by a local community’s equivalent of a chamber of commerce, announcing the opening of a new business. The business group apparently thinks it is better to pay an out-of-state spammer to send e-mail (as if the local folks cannot send e-mails themselves) than it is to advertise new businesses in a local newspaper that pays dues to the association.
Then there’s the Facebook group that sends out dozens of messages daily about businesses in Marion and Dickinson Counties — so many announcements, of such limited appeal (do you really want to get your hair tinted in Abilene?) that we finally had to turn off e-mail notification of each posting lest our e-mail became hopelessly mired with triviality.
All this fancy technology is great. We can learn the schedule of the deputy assistant state director of mugwumpery, almost down to how regularly nature calls. Even if the political system is constipated, he is not.
However, there is a price to all of this. If you are old enough, remember the heyday of CB radio, when everyone had “his ears on” and could learn all manner of important things while traveling, including the “20” of “bears with cameras” — the location of state troopers checking speed with radar.
CB was great, until the volume of irrelevant messages (some quite explicit and inappropriate) got so high that it offset any possible reward from actually listening to the torrents of increasingly profane irrelevancy. Is e-mail — and, in some cases, the Internet — the next to befall the same fate?
It is no surprise that some of the same officials who are hiding their own inability to address serious issues inside torrents of meaningless spam also are behind the push to get important public notices transferred to the Internet. They know first-hand that the best way to hide things is to launch them amid an overabundance of irrelevancy into cyberspace. It is an old lawyer trick: Disclose so much that you disclose nothing. In other words, baffle ’em with the bull-you-know-what.
Self-proclaimed pundits and prophets (most of whom are themselves seeking profit from their punditry) continue to profess the irrelevancy of news media in an age glutted with information overload. However, as long as there are people putting out so much information you cannot figure out what to pay attention to, there will be a place for journalists, who daily sift through ever-larger haystacks of commoditized information to find the few needles of interest and importance to their trusting readers.
Meanwhile, if you want to do something to ensure better government in the state, invest in a spam filter.
— ERIC MEYER