A Quiet Day
The sixth story in The Eutotokens of Learning, which is a collection of stories speculating on a future infrastructure for free to the end user distance education on the internet.
Copyright 1998 William Overington.
Edith Gatford had been looking forward to today. As Secretary of Encouragement of Creativity and Invention Limited her duties are many and varied. Yet amongst all the meetings and management she has a few quiet days when she carries out tasks related to the exchange of eutotokens for goods and services.
Certainly, the packing of books and other items, such as the scarves, is carried out by her assistants, yet she has always sent out the display eutotokens herself. A eutotoken is a token that can be exchanged for goods and services. Many eutotokens do not exist in physical form but are handled as points by electronic transfer methods almost as if they were money. Of those that are in physical form the vast majority are simply small self-adhesive items slightly smaller than a postage stamp and supplied on rolls or sheets to bulk purchasers. Not that bulk necessarily means a large quantity. For one of the features of Encouragement of Creativity and Invention Limited is that tokens may be purchased by organizers of small scale competitions. This very feature had revolutionized the organization of many cultural competitions. Many newspapers and magazines no longer ran creative writing competitions where most entrants received nothing. The going rate is now to purchase some eutotokens from Encouragement of Creativity and Invention Limited and divide them out amongst the entrants. Not necessarily an equal number to each entrant and not to the exclusion of other prizes, yet the typical entrant usually received a few eutotokens.
Competitions for inventors had gone in a similar direction. The traditional format had been that potential entrants sent for an information pack then, upon entry, received an acknowledgement letter and then, for the typical entrant, either received nothing more or else received a letter informing him or her that he or she had not won and just generally expressing thanks for he or she having entered. That had all changed. Now the final letter would say that some eutotokens were enclosed. It cost very little more to do. Indeed in some cases there was no additional cost at all as the cost of the eutotokens was offset by not sending out a letter acknowledging receipt of the entry.
Eutotokens only cost bulk purchasers ten pence each and, of that, eight pence is used by Encouragement of Creativity and Invention Limited to purchase in bulk goods and to fund the services to be supplied for exchange of the eutotokens. The rest goes upon staff salaries and overheads.
An individual can collect eutotokens from various creative and inventive activities and aggregate them to receive goods and services, often goods and services unobtainable elsewhere or obtainable elsewhere only by disproportionate expense.
Yet there are some eutotokens that are in physical form yet are not the everyday small self-adhesive items. These are the display eutotokens. They are A4 paper size, printed upon antique laid paper, in landscape format with stylish typography in the Garamond Italic typeface and with ornamental scrollwork. They are each of the same value for exchange purposes as an ordinary purely functional eutotoken, yet they are popular for framing and hanging on study walls. Yet they are not personalized. Edith pondered that the display eutotokens are quite popular, even though they are issued in exchange for fifty eutotokens. They did not tend to be requested by all exchangers of eutotokens by any means. They tended to be something requested by those people who had over a period of time received a lot of eutotokens and had exchanged them from time to time for books and the occasional service, such as direct payment by Encouragement of Creativity and Invention Limited to an accredited organization of the fee required for assessment of a portfolio for a qualification. As they had made progress in their education and careers, which progress had been assisted to some extent by the existence of Encouragement of Creativity and Invention Limited, it is often the case that a request to purchase a display eutotoken arrives.
Edith always handles the requests for display eutotokens personally and she keeps a record of their issue.
As she works, quietly moving around her office Edith begins to sing quietly. She hums a little, she sings just audibly, almost to herself.
A stylish collectweight
Made of gold ruby glass
Edith does not remember all of the words but remembers those two lines, which are repeated a few times in the song, and she also remembers a few other lines.
The telephone rings. It is Jane Hove. She sounds anxious.
"Can I drive over and see you urgently" asks Jane.
"Why yes, certainly" replies Edith. Edith does not ask what it is about. It sounds urgent and that is enough.
"No, you won't be interrupting anything that won't keep" says Edith.
"No, no, I'm just issuing display eutotokens, that's all, I can do it tomorrow." Edith carefully replaces the telephone.
'What is this about' thinks Edith.
"Jane, Jane, are you alright" asks Edith as Jane Hove rushes into her office looking very anxious.
'Has she resigned' thinks Edith.
"Edith, we've got a major crisis, IFDEP is on the verge of going bust".
"Oh" says Edith, rather concerned for both their futures.
"We just can't get enough advertising revenue in, the advertisers say that we don't put their message in front of the students enough. David Albert went to negotiate a big contract the other day and came back with absolutely nothing! Yes, absolutely nothing!"
Edith realizes the problem. She looks anxiously and sympathetically at Jane yet says nothing.
"David Albert says that the only way out would be to include advertising in the learning packages themselves. Don't tell me, I know, you're against that, but what else can we do! If we don't put advertising in the learning packages then we are not going to get the advertising revenue and we will fold. The advertisers will put their money into something else altogether and that will be the end of that. We will all go down in history as part of an experiment in utopian capitalism that failed and the sneerers of the world can say that it was all unrealistic to start with, even though they've never done anything themselves!"
"Well...." says Edith "what is to be done?"
"Nothing can be done, it's all ...." Jane pauses "Do you think that you can save it? I know you're good Edith, but surely even you can't save this."
"Not on my own" says Edith cautiously.
"The thing is" she adds "the keeping of advertising out of the learning packages is part of our long standing practice. It is not actually written into our constitution. The actual wording is 'advertising shall not unduly interact with academic considerations' which is rather vaguer than a direct prohibition on advertising in learning packages. However, I do not feel that I can myself interpret that as permitting advertising in learning packages on my own say so: but, as you know, we have a membership and constitutions can be changed if changes are voted to be made."
"You think that you can change your constitution?" says Jane almost incredulously.
"It may not be necessary." replies Edith "The thing is it may be possible to do something within the existing letter of the constitution, but I am concerned with the spirit of the constitution and I do not regard my position as Secretary as a licence to do what I like just because it suits my purpose. So, a consultation with the members will need to take place, though that will be a matter of seeking opinions and then the board making its decision rather than a formal vote. In fact, the board would find it very hard to go against strong opinions from the members one way or the other, but it will save a lot of expense in document preparation. Also a consultation with the members may produce ideas which can be incorporated in what is finally decided."
"But what are you going to consult about?" asks Jane.
"Why simply what constitutes 'unduly' as in 'advertising shall not unduly interact with academic considerations' and how far members consider it reasonable to go in order to balance the need to sell eutotokens with the need to have the satisfaction of doing a worthwhile distance education job. There are some who say that any advertising in the learning packages will be too much and that they will then neither author packages themselves nor use anybody else's package for learning. I think IFDEP needs to bear in mind that if it goes down the road of, say, every time a student clicks a button to multiply two numbers together that an advertisement appears with the result, then IFDEP may well alienate many of the students and end up in problems of getting no advertising at all because it has no students!"
Jane looks glum.
"Yes, I see what you mean." she groans.
"However, I have an idea." says Edith.
Jane looks intrigued and she brightens, as she knows Edith and her ideas, having many times been on the other side of the negotiating table from her.
"You have an idea?" smiles Jane, still looking intrigued.
"Yes" says Edith "Back in the days before we were constituted and started business there were some experiments with what were called clockblocks. The name comes from the stock blocks of the old letterpress printers, rather like a solid metal type of clip art, where a printer could buy a stock block of, say, a dog, so that it could be printed on the copies of the brochure for a dog show. Well, a clockblock was a gif file for use on the web which was in fact an animated gif file but that just played through its sequence once, with the first ten seconds being a statement that it was a free usage block intended to encourage free to the end user distance education. After the ten seconds were up, it showed the graph or whatever that it was really about. The effect was that web pages which loaded with such blocks in them showed the messages and users were aware of them but, once the ten seconds was up, the blocks were just normal static illustrations. I just wondered whether ten seconds of advertising when the pages loaded would count both as 'not unduly' for our members and also as satisfactory for your advertisers."
"Well, it's certainly worth a try" sparkles Jane, visibly relieved "One of their concerns is that some people bypass the indexes when they go back to a package: another is that some users download packages to local storage and study them there and don't go back to the indexes." She pauses. "Would you be happy with that though Edith" asks Jane with concern. "Well, not entirely" says Edith "I hope that you'll try to get ten per cent of packages exempt" smiles Edith.
"Well, I'll try, but I might have to settle for five per cent and only things in a special list of categories." says Jane.
"Try for ten" says Edith with a knowing smile.
"As I say, I'll try ...." says Jane, then pausing and smiling as a realization spreads across her face that Edith is negotiating again.
"You know," says Edith "I feel that some of the advertisers don't really appreciate what we are all trying to do with this free distance education."
"No" says Jane in resigned agreement to how things are.
"Do you think," adds Edith "that it would be helpful if we, that is ourselves and IFDEP, put on an exhibition here so that people can come and see what we do. IFDEP could invite existing and potential advertisers."
"Well, yes" says Jane "But can we make it more than that. Can we put on a banquet as well. Don't worry, IFDEP will fund it. I know, how about holding it at La flava floro, I expect that your sister will be able to put on a good show."
"Show?" smiles Edith "With music and singing type show?" she laughs.
"Well, no, but .... hang on, why not, can your sister do such things?"
"Well, I don't know if she ever has, but she is a good organizer and there's plenty of space. I'll need to ask her, but ...." Edith laughs.
"It looks like we're going into show business then" laughs Jane.