[img: Atelier Bow-Wow, Miyashita Park, Tokyo, 2011, via Detail, das Architektur Portal]
‘The common misapprehension is that a messy desk is a sign of a hard worker.’
‘Get over the idea that your function here is to collect and process as much information as possible.’
‘The whole mess and disorder of the desk on the left is, in fact, due to excess information.’
‘A mess is information without value.’
‘The whole point of cleaning off a desk is to get rid of the information you don’t want and keep the information you do want.’
‘Who cares which candy wrapper is on top of which paper? Who cares which half-crumpled memo is trapped between two pages of a Revenue Ruling that pertained to a file three days back?’
‘Forget the idea that information is good.’
‘Only certain information is good.’
‘Certain as in some, not as in a hundred percent confirmed.’
‘Each file you examine in Rotes will constitute a plethora of information,’ the Personnel aide said, stressing the second syllable of plethora in a way that made Sylvanschine’s eyelids flutter.
‘Your job, in a sense, with each file is to separate the valuable pertinent information from the pointless information.’
‘And that requires criteria.’
‘It’s a procedure for processing information.’
‘You are all, if you think about it, data processors.’
The next slide on the screen was either a foreign word or a very complex acronym, each letter in bold and also underlined.
‘Different groups and teams within groups are given slightly different criteria that help inform what to look for.’
The Personnel aide was thumbing through his laminated outline.
‘Actually there’s another example of the information thing.’
‘I think they’ve got it.’
The CTO had a way of turning one foot out perpendicular to its normal direction and tapping it furiously to signal impatience.
‘But it’s right here under the desk thing.’
‘You mean the deck of cards?’
‘The checkout line.’
They seemed to believe their mikes were off.
‘Who’d like to hear another example illustrating the idea of collecting information versus processing data?’
Cusk was feeling solid and confident, as he often did after a series of attacks had passed and his nervous system felt depleted and difficult to arouse. He felt that if he’d raised his hand and given an answer that turned out not to be correct it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. ‘Whatever,’ he thought. The ‘whatever’ is what he often though when he was feeling jaunty and immune from attack. He had twice actually asked women out when in this cocky, extroverted, hydrotically secure mood, then later failed to show up or call at the appointed time. He actually considered turning around and saying something jaunty and ever so slightly flirtatious to the noisome Belgian swimsuit model – on the upswing, he now wanted people’s attention.
At age eight, Sylvanshine had data on his father’s liver enzymes and rate of cortical atrophy, but he didn’t know what these data meant.
‘There you are at the market while your items are being tallied. There’s an individual price for each item, obviously. It’s often right there on the item, on an adhesive tag, sometimes with the wholesale price also coded in the corner – we can talk about that some other time. At checkout, the cashier enters the price of each grocery, adds them up, appends relevant sales tax – not progressive, this is a current example – and arrives at a total, which you then pay. The point – which has more information, the total amount or the calculation of ten individual items, let’s say you had ten items in your cart in the example. The obvious answer is that the set of all the individual prices has much more information than the single number that’s the total. It’s just that most of the information is irrelevant. If you paid for each item individually, that would be one thing. But you don’t. The individual information of the individual price has value only in the context of the total; what the cashier is really doing is discarding information, which in the cashier runs through a procedure in order to arrive at the one piece of information that’s valuabe – the total, plus tax.’
‘Get rid of the layman’s idea that information is good. That the more information the better. The phone book has lots of information, but if you’re looking for a phone number, 99.9 percent of that information is just in the way.’
‘Information per se is really just a measure of disorder.’ Sylvanshine’s head popped up at this.
‘The point of a procedure is to process and reduce the information in your file to just the information that has value.’
‘There’s also the matter of using your time most efficiently. You’re not going to spend equal time on each file. You want to spend the most time on the files that look promising in terms of yielding the most net revenue.’
‘Net revenue is our term for the amount of additional revenue generated by an audit less the cost of the audit.’
‘Under the Initiative, examiners are evaluated according to both total net revenue produced and the ratio of total additional revenue produced over total cost of additional audits ordered. Whichever is the least favorable.’
‘The ratio is to keep some rube from simply filling out a Memo 20 on every file that hits his Tingle in hopes of jacking up his net.’ Cusk considered: An examiner who filed no Memo 20s ever would have a ratio of 0/0 which is infinity. But the net revenue total would, he reflected, also be 0.
‘The point is to develop and implement procedures that let you determine as quickly as possible whether a given file merits closer examination -’
‘- that closer examination itself involving some type or types of procedures blended with your own creativity and instinct for smelling a rat in the woodwork -’
‘- although at the beginning of your service, as you’re gaining experience and honing your skills, it will be natural to rely on certain tested procedures -’
‘- a lot of these will vary by group or team.’
‘Incongruities on the Master Files, for one thing. That’s pretty obvious. Disagreement of W-2s plus 1099s with stated income. Disagreement of state return with 1040 -’
‘But by how much? Below what floor do you simply let an incongruity go?’
‘These are the sorts of matters for your group orientation.’
David Foster Wallace, The Pale King, Penguin Books, 2012, p.342-345.