Snake Oil Salesman of the Modern Era

I was reminded this evening of a particular day at work in a job I once had. It was myself and two of my colleagues (all programmers) on the phone with two other guys, two other “programmers” (only this time with quotes). It took years for me to fully realize this, but there are people in life, especially in the corporate world, that can offer no useful products or services, apart from a real dexterous skill at the art of talking. While myself and my two other colleagues gathered these vendors together for a little chat to discuss some major design flaws in the product they delivered, the receiving party seemed to deftly avoid and turn on its head everything being said; they somehow turned an hour conversation into an hour signifying nothing: a brilliant art, a legerdemain of the mouth, a slight of tongue.

It started off innocently enough. There was a bland comment about weather, or more precisely, a comparison of the temperature of where we were, to where they were (a mere 200 miles away in Maryland, nothing to reign in National Geographic about). Then a bad, often sexist, joke is dropped. You might fake laugh because, at the time, it seems only the polite thing to do. And then, just like that, they have you. In a drunken haze of innuendo and frivolity, you hang up the phone, satiated, and bemused. Moments later you realize that in one whole hour, nothing had really been accomplished, and that that phone call just cost you 200$. The snake oil salesman of today wears a stripped J Crew tie, carries a laptop, and is glued to his cell phone—but is no less insidious, and no less unctuous. They distract their prey with flashy graphics, complex diagrams, and woo you with fanciful unrealistic promises. And before you know it, they are on your payroll permanently, a fixture on your budget. You may have first thought you were purchasing a temporary piece of plastic PVC piping from Island Plastics to fix a leaky system, but in the end, they are that costly plumber with the low hanging size 42 jeans, but who decides to move into your home.

What you never realize is that this plumber knows just as much about plumbing as you — that is, nothing at all. But, he sells his ignorance much better, and towards a more lucrative—more invidious—profit.