There's a Sucker Invented Every Minute


Back in the dark days of the 1970s and 1980s our consumption of news typically was limited to reading a couple of newspapers, catching the evening TV news, and listening to the top-of-the-hour radio news. If we had time, we caught up with a business magazine.

Despite the death of many newspapers and magazines, the Web has expanded our access to news in an exponential manner. I think we now can browse more headlines in an hour than we once saw in a week. With so many stories it's only natural that we can see -- or at least imagine -- relationships between two very different articles.

That's what happened a few days after I read a Gartner Inc. press release Gartner Predicts Smart Machines Will Make 5 Percent of Digital Commerce Purchases in China by 2020. The research firm wrote, "Smart machines as a digital commerce customer will go from almost nonexistent today to 5 percent of purchases in China in 2020, as human customers become more comfortable with smart machines and fierce competition forces customer experience innovation."

Credit: Daily Mail
Credit: Daily Mail

As you can envision, analytics-driven applications would play a key role in that type of scenario. A consumer's e-commerce app would understand your buying patterns and, once you learn to trust the app, it would be able to spot products or services that you need before even you realize you need them. I'm still not sold on the idea of things like the smart refrigerator that tells you when you need milk, but I suppose they would appeal to some people.

Then, yesterday, I put this machine-based buying concept into perspective. I suspect that it might be behind the success of a young British entrepreneur, Leo De Watts.

The Daily Mail said, "A former public schoolboy is making thousands of pounds from selling air from the British countryside to the Chinese for 80 a bottle. Leo De Watts 'farms' fresh-air from Dorset, Somerset, Wales, Wiltshire, and Yorkshire and sells the bottles to people in smog-plagued Beijing and Shanghai. His teams put bottles in specially adapted fishing nets and hold them aloft as they run through fields to 'harvest' the product."

I hadn't heard of this type of scam since I was a kid, when joke stores and souvenir shops sold cans of authentic Maine fog. That fog, which mysteriously disappeared once you opened the can, allegedly was harvested on what hack journalists refer to as the "rocky, fog-bound coast of Maine."

Of course, the big difference between the two was that the can of fog was meant as a 25-cent joke. That 80 pounds figures out to about $150 US. Even the wealthy would find better uses for $150. So, I can only assume that some faulty algorithm is deciding that people in Shanghai and Beijing need a jar of British air.

Whether P.T. Barnum actually said, "There's a sucker born every minute," or someone said that about his circus booths filled with bearded ladies, fire eaters, and missing links, I suspect that the truth in the statement lives on. At least in this case we might be able to fall back on that easiest of modern excuses, "The computer did it!"

James M. Connolly, Editor of All Analytics

Jim Connolly is a versatile and experienced technology journalist who has reported on IT trends for more than two decades. As editor of All Analytics he writes about the move to big data analytics and data-driven decision making. Over the years he has covered enterprise computing, the PC revolution, client/server, the evolution of the Internet, the rise of web-based business, and IT management. He has covered breaking industry news and has led teams focused on product reviews and technology trends. Throughout his tech journalism career, he has concentrated on serving the information needs of IT decision-makers in large organizations and has worked with those managers to help them learn from their peers and share their experiences in implementing leading-edge technologies through publications including Computerworld. Jim also has helped to launch a technology-focused startup, as one of the founding editors at TechTarget, and has served as editor of an established news organization focused on technology startups and the Boston-area venture capital sector at MassHighTech. A former crime reporter for the Boston Herald, he majored in journalism at Northeastern University.

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Re: The upside of suckerhood
  • 2/23/2016 3:25:34 PM
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While there is indeed a sucker born every minute, sometimes I wonder if I'm it. While "we now can browse more headlines in an hour than we once saw in a week," the ease of the task maybe expanding the time we spend doing things that might not really be all that necessary but in some ways is a way just to waste a bit of time. In the old days I might spend a hour with the news once, or maybe a second loot in the evening. Now I'm glancing at news all through the day, usually mindlessly. I wonder if I'm caught in the sucker trap.

Re: The upside of suckerhood
  • 2/15/2016 8:50:22 PM
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@Jamescon     Even though the air quality has improved, you are probably right -  a price reduction would probably be necessary.   

 

 But the perfume/cologne idea has some serious potential !

Re: The upside of suckerhood
  • 2/15/2016 4:52:21 PM
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@Louis. With Los Angeles air someone might have to pay the buyer to take it off their hands. However, if you could claim that it contains the scent of perfume/cologne from certain stars you might be able to sell it to tourists.

Re: The upside of suckerhood
  • 2/15/2016 4:22:51 PM
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" ...Then there are those who just like to spend their money on things just to say "I could afford it." 

 

@Seth   I think there is something to that - there are some very deep pockets in China.

 

Re: The upside of suckerhood
  • 2/15/2016 4:20:14 PM
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@rbaz    That is hilarious !  Trying to write off his unsold inventory?   I think I have heard everything now !  : )    Makes me wonder what the Present Value of Rock is anyway ?  

I guess it is what the market will bear - Free Enterprise at it's best !  

The IRS always ruins the best ideas.

Re: The upside of suckerhood
  • 2/15/2016 2:22:22 PM
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Louis, the odd ending to this was that things were going so well that he built up quite an inventory and when the craz died off, he tried to write off the unsold rocks as a loss on his tax return. That didn't go over well with the IRS and his troubles compounded into bankruptcy court.

Re: The upside of suckerhood
  • 2/15/2016 2:15:25 PM
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Louis, it was just a point being made about presentation over content over a cocktail. The marketing guy was using the old line, 'I can sell snow to an Eskimo'. So over a bet everyone started out laughing and he cashed in while making his point.

Re: The upside of suckerhood
  • 2/15/2016 1:20:12 PM
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"...Maybe we should have more of a sense of humor about these inanities. Or be grateful they create jobs for somebody, somewhere. "

 

@Terry   That is certainly one way to look at it that I had not considered - Job creation. 

If someone is out there buying it - I can't fault them for the ingenuity.

Re: The upside of suckerhood
  • 2/15/2016 1:16:47 PM
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@rbaz   I always wondered where the idea of pet rocks came from, I always thought it was championed by kids who were looking for alternatives to Leomade Stands.

Re: The upside of suckerhood
  • 2/15/2016 1:15:12 PM
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Wow, I have never hear of this type of scam.  I thought Pet Rocks were the measuring stick, but that appears to be replaced by Air.  I wonder how much Los Angeles Air would go for ?

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