I’ve got higher chances of dying crushed by some space debris than of trusting my yahoo inbox (these days)

On: September 11, 2010
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About Alberto Angelini
italian, male / creativitheoretical guy / videoartisan and polymusician / BA in cinema, past experiences as screenwriter & director both for tv and independent projects / addicted to bergamot tea / currently training to become a master of media / compulsive reader / vaguely vegetarian


I’m desperately searching for a house. I was supposed to move into a quite small but cozy flat in the Jordaan, one of the most gezellig-driven district of Amsterdam, but in the end the lady who was offering me an year of sublet (due to some ceramic-related course to take abroad) suddenly changed her mind (about me or about ceramics, I still don’t know exactly).

So, these are days of constant and feverish research, carried out mainly on the web – since a surprisingly high percentage of the written announcements I happened to see here and there are “housing/room wanted” ones. But when it comes to rental, the telematic approach is pretty critical: on the one side you can select and categorize the information you need in a very sophisticated way (i.e., crossing criteria like city area and/or square meters with number of bedrooms, then sorting the outcomes for price or day of availability), a methodology that is hard to apply while facing random or chronological listing on a magazine or a public board; on the other side, at the very beginning of each email conversation (cellphone numbers are rarely indicated on ads websites) you usually ignore who’s posting an ad or replying to your request, so you quickly try to push things from virtual to real (asking for photos or video-tours of the place [if not already offered], while warmly proposing a date to meet in the flesh[&bricks]).

This bizarre mechanism – a combination between the professional detailed offer of a real estate agency and the uncertain but appealing taste of online dating – obviously leads to a huge number and variety of frauds, expecially because here the identity game has money and rush as added values; consequentely, each email received in such a scenario potentially becomes a semiotic minefield, an opaque document to be deciphered with a certain cynicism coupled with expertise. By the way, phenomena of misleading [tele]communications are so common nowadays than not only anti-spam strategies have been developed to avoid intrusive or unexpected advertising, but also anti-scam taxonomies are starting to appear as a means to stylistically and narratologically evaluate unfiltered private messages – directly received by the user during (what appears to be) a regular exchange. The basic assumption is simple: although it may sound strange or even grotesque, many fraudsters seem to follow a recurrent scheme, thus this scheme can be analysed in order to produce a structural template capable of encompass (but also generate) all the possible alternatives – something very similar to Propp’s famous “morphology of the folk tale”.

So here I am, reading forums or reports on the scamdex archive, mapping different trick types by continent on the scamtracker, selecting formalist features on the fraudwatchers checklist (this is really amazing, there’s even a color coding and a comparative statistic scale – give it a try and you’ll understand my title) or simply feeding the scamomatic textbox with complete letters. Of course, it’s perfectly clear that something is going wrong if your potential landlord describes himself as someone “who enjoys a good drink every now and then lol” or remarks that once in the apartment is possible “to be delighted by the birds singing outside” (sic!) – expecially if this occurs in his first reply and if the address of the chirp-flavoured flat is not even mentioned. You don’t need a fraud-database to detect a goofy and unnecessary friendliness, maybe automatically machine-generated; nevertheless, it’s a oddly interesting experience to feel this involuntary surrealist effect (a clash between the formal business writing code and some emotion-mimicking nuances) as well as to discover a whole independent universe of fradulent storytelling out there (deep and complex, not to mention the concerning theorists & experts).

As to me and my shelter problem, let’s cross fingers.

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