what to do with useless information?

During an attempt to get Home DepLowe’s to repair the lawnmower from which I violently extracted the pull string, I experienced a taste of the unusual way humans and our digital overlords have chosen to use computing. The mower was purchased over a year ago, so, no, I did not have a receipt. Somehow knowing my dad’s phone number and the month (just the month, not the year) it was bought, the clerk was able to pin down an invoice number which would later be used thus:

An actual human will go through our microfiche archives to determine whether or not you signed up for the Extended Advantage plan, which will allow me to refer you to one of our certified technicians.

IMAG0243She really said those words. Sinking into moderate despair at the thought that anything could ever be run like this, and that more than likely actual governments are probably being run in more insane ways, I was pretty resigned at this point. I offered the digital image pictured here, asking if it helped. This was the reply:

That’s good information to have, but it doesn’t help.

From this point on, I pretty much zoned out, as 103% of my mental energy was directed at the philosophy behind that statement. I would disagree and say that on the contrary, non-helpful information is by definition not good information. Useless information is, in many circumstances, equivalent to misinformation or even a total absence of information. How could it possibly be good, in any scenario, to have information that doesn’t help you at all? Information’s quality  is directly related to its usefulness.

By now, I had wandered off to aisle 73 or whatever and found myself in front of lawnmower pull string thingies for $4. I got one, went home, and in my DIY fervor, ripped open the plastic bag it came in only to find that the instructions I would surely need were printed on the bag, the most important part rent illegibly in twain. I felt a little solace in the fact that had I had the information on how to proceed, it would have been good, because it would have helped me. (Although, what would have really helped was READ THIS BEFORE NOT READING AND SUBSEQUENTLY DESTROYING being printed on the bag.)

Following my application of forensic typography, I gathered that all the instructions told me to do was to make the broken thing not broken any more. This was when I first realized that all the package contained was a piece of rope and a handle  which would be impossible to attach to it: a parlor puzzle with tautological instructions.

In the end, I fixed the mower in about 20 minutes, only a wrench and a screwdriver, not ninth-degree microfiche, involved. The moral of the story: if your lawn mower starter cord breaks, it’s not that hard to fix; this is good information because it is helpful.