CES flicks the off switch on massager award… and causes a buzz

It's not the messiah, it's just very naughty metadata

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Withdrawal at the last moment isn't the most reliable method of avoiding trouble or embarrassment. This was certainly the experience at CES this year when judges very suddenly rescinded an Innovation Award it had given for Lora DiCarlo's Osé Robotic Massager.

You may argue such a blatant reverse gerbil only lays bare that the male-dominated consumer IT industry has gender bias issues. Now everyone can see it. What happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas.

Did I say gender bias? No, apparently it all comes down to metadata – or so the second explanation from the CES showrunners would have us believe.

Someone at the 11th hour realised that this remote-controlled vibrator, which looks like a black-and-white photo of a Great Dane turd, had been accidentally inserted into the wrong place. That is, it didn't qualify for the Innovation Awards' Robotics and Drone category.

Earlier excuses from the Consumer Technology Association about the product being "indecent" and so on were rather muddled. When it comes to sex, nobody performs well when put in a difficult position.

A related example raised its head this week back in Europe when it was announced that a French restaurant for nudists had been forced to close. While sub-editors worked on identikit headlines – Naked Lunch etc – journalists and commentators spluttered over the sexual aspect of wearing no clothes and the indecency of doing so in public.

They fail to have grasped the point. It's not a problem of exhibitionism but one of comfort. I'm obviously guessing here but most of us probably don't eat dinner while starkers in the privacy of our own homes either. The ambient temperature may be too chilly. The seat of the chair might be too prickly. Ordinary cutlery suddenly becomes a worrisome hazard. Spilling the gravy can necessitate a trip to A&E.

Worse, restaurants always cram the tables together too closely. Every time someone at another table wants to nip to the loo, I'll get either their naked arse pressing into my shoulder or their todger skimming my soup as they squeeze by. That Parisian restaurant is probably the first to close down because too many customers left a tip.

Anyway, let's get back to metadata as a culprit for Lora DiCarlo losing its prize at CES. Setting aside whether or not it's true this is an explanation I can sympathise with. Applied to sex toy cockups or otherwise, incorrect metadata can be a bugger.

I am experiencing this as I progressively empty my house of possessions prior to moving home. To this end, each item is put up for sale on one of those free local classified ads websites like Schmuck or Bumfree, and every sale turns into a farce... of metadata.

Sofas are classified as dining room furniture. Bookcases are classified as kitchen equipment. A snowboard bag is classified as a pair of skis.

When buyers search for local items, they see hundreds of deals on offer because the term "local" is interpreted very loosely. I had a call from someone asking if they could nip round in half an hour to collect my spare bed; it was only after giving him my precise street address that it was established that we lived 400 miles apart.

Just as frustrating as bad metadata is no metadata at all. These classified ad sites provide no means of entering item dimensions – height of a chest of drawers, width of a bed, etc – except in the free text description field, which nobody seems to read properly. I think buyers just look at the pictures and the price, then fire off an SMS.

This would explain why I've had buyers turn up in all sorts of inappropriate vehicles for the item they expected to take home with them. One imagined he could fit a full-size bookcase into the back of a family car with the family still in it. Another arrived in a mini to collect a double bed. A particularly optimistic buyer asked if she could send her boyfriend over on a moped to collect a wardrobe.

As I'm sure the CTA would agree, I clearly expect too much of metadata to classify and define my information with any degree of accuracy. This is surprising as I am led to believe that everything is "meta" these days. In fact, there is nothing more "meta" than the definition of metadata itself: information about information. A dictionary entry for "metadata" will have metadata. It's so beautifully recursive.

You know life is going meta when...

  • someone puts a leaflet through your letterbox to advertise a service for putting leaflets through people's letterboxes
  • there's an app on your smartphone for finding your smartphone
  • you realise you'd just watched a SWF video on how to uninstall Adobe Flash
  • Satoshi tells you to buy Bitcoin* with Bitcoin**

Ah, metadata. I even love the way it's pronounced. Americans say "medder-dayder". The Queen says "myettah-dartar". Geordies say "meh'ah-day'ah". The last one is my personal favourite and I like to practise saying it that way repeatedly out loud to speed things up when I'm standing in a queue.

Thanks to the shenanigans at CES 2019, I finally understand why a working lifetime of IT writing has garnered me no awards: it's not because my work has no intrinsic value but that I simply don't fit into the right category. I'm hardly going to sit comfortably alongside investigative journalists and national newspaper diarists, and no one has yet established a That Was Ten Minutes Of My Life I'll Never Get Back Columnist of the Year award.

Like the Osé, I too have fallen victim to the evils of inadequate metadata categorisation. Verily, I am the literary equivalent of an embarrassing robotic vibrator. And how meta is that?

Click click drone.

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He believes it is a shame that the CTA could not massage the awards categories to allow the insertion of a sex toy. Surely they could have found some wriggle room through the back door. @alidabbs

* SV ** BTC

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