Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Forgive me Tiscali for I have sinned

Really? I hadn't heard ...
Today I had dealings with the two entities who, with the possible exception of God, know more about me than any other in this World; my local supermarket and my ISP.

Given that I was off to Tesco's this morning I opened the last letter they sent me and perused the enclosed vouchers. Those guys have really got my number. Every single offer and discount coupon was tailored to my shopping habits as recorded by my customer loyalty card. All in all, my record with Tesco's is pretty virtuous and I marched off to the supermarket armed with money off vouchers for dried pasta, citrus fruits, fresh vegetables, speciality cheeses and yoghurts.

A couple of thoughts occurred to me on the way to Tesco's. Firstly, given what I see in the mirror each morning, eating healthy is clearly no guarantee of a desirable physique. Secondly, I was a little concerned that a supermarket had profiled me so accurately. The money off vouchers are getting increasingly specific and I expect the next batch to include coupons offering something like '50p off Tesco's own-brand spaghetti but only if stop snorting at the people buying lottery tickets in your local store, change your socks at least every two days and buy Tracy a birthday card for a change you tight arse'.

In fairness to Tesco's, I did opt into the customer loyalty card scheme and I do use the vouchers but the price is that they have a little part of my soul recorded in their database.

My record with my ISP is a lot less virtuous. For most of today I could not make a connection. I eventually cracked and called Tiscali customer support; Italian company name, UK customer, Indian call centre. After a few minutes spent chatting to a pleasant woman in Rawalpindi, who was vainly pretending to be in Birmingham, we established that Tiscali had been undertaking maintenance in my area and that service would be resumed by the end of the day. I suppose I should have complained, but I didn't. Throughout our conversation I had a mental picture of a sari-clad woman, sitting at a workstation several thousand miles away, chatting with me whilst simultaneously browsing my surfing habits. Given that my computer had been connected to a Croatian file-sharing network for something like 40 out of the previous 48 hours, I had half-suspected that my account had been blocked for some reason. I was so relieved that the connection failure wasn't a result of my naughtiness that I ended the call brusquely and thanked my lucky stars.

Tiscali knows all and I was sure the customer service rep could sense my guilt, as well as having access to a real-time itemised listing of the reasons for that guilt.

As a lapsed Catholic I should be accustomed to this.

Throughout the call I was saying to myself 'Don't worry Stef, she's like a chemist, she's seen it all before. Maybe she's never heard of Russ Meyer. She probably hasn’t the faintest idea what Japanese Helicopter porn is all about. I'm sure that she knows of plenty of legitimate reasons to be hooked up to Eastern European file sharing services' and so on.

And what if Tiscali start sending me money off vouchers and information about services I might be interested in based on my surfing habits? It doesn’t bear thinking about. There aren't enough brown envelopes in all the World. What if Tesco's merges with Tiscali? After all they're quite close together in the alphabet. All they would need is a tissue sample and a passport photograph and they could clone me perfectly.

Time to start buying leg waxing products, eating more processed foods and visiting for a while methinks.

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