Hey, Your Technological Anxiety and Fear of Change Ain’t My Fault, Dangit

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The Big Picture
by Glynn Wilson

We’ve been discussing some high level, complicated science here of late, but for my average working Southern American audience, let’s take it down a notch for a few minutes today.

Now I know my many atheist friends on Facebook who are highly in tune with the science do not care much for religion. But let’s face facts. There are still millions of people on this planet who depend on their religion for a certain world view. There are also millions in this country and even my home state of Alabama.

So I want to speak to them today even though I know they don’t want to hear it (and most of them won’t read it, although a few will share the link on Facebook). This will be entertaining and enlightening for intellectuals too, so you might want to take note of this bit of Web communication. You won’t find it in any news”paper.”

I often struggle with how to tell a story so that people understand the point, so I employ something religious people should be able to relate to. That is the “parable,” which is defined in some quarters as a succinct story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive principles or lessons. It is a type of analogy, if you will, and it was employed by Jesus in his time to try to help people understand. Of course then he said, “For those who have an ear let them here…”

There is a parable here, so follow along, please. It is important.

From my experience in dealing directly with religious folks who read their Bible every day and go to church every Sunday, I have witnessed something many times in my life and noticed it quietly without writing anything about it. I write about it today because I think it is time.

Not a day goes by around here that I don’t come into contact with someone who clings to the past and wishes we could all turn back the clock to some mythical “better time.” This is not just a way to make fun of people who are slow to pick up and use new technology. I’m trying to tell a story that will help them to understand the stress and anxiety they feel about change, and to help them realize that avoiding change is not going to make their stress and anxiety go away.

The longer they wait to face it and deal with it the more change there is in the world and the harder they are going to find it to deal with. After you read this column, come back to this link and read this: On the Accelerating, Exponential Rate of Change in Society.

So I posted this little ditty on Facebook this morning.

TECHNOLOGY U – Have you ever tried to get in touch with Google or Facebook on the telephone? Good luck. You can’t. Web businesses handle their business on the Web, not the telephone. One of these days perhaps the people of my home state and the South may finally get around to realizing that, maybe when they totally stop delivering the news”paper” to their doorstep and banks stop using paper checks entirely. Historical research shows us that most people thought the telephone would never catch on either. Now the U.S. Post Office is on the verge of going out of business. Thank you Ronald Reagan for privatization and the beginnings of destroying Ben Franklin’s great idea.

Notice there are a number of issues and points made by this little funny paragraph. Now let me explain them for those who need things made explicit.

There are times when even I get frustrated with trying to deal with Google and Facebook, and wish I could get someone on the phone to scream at. But the programmers who built the Web infrastructure nearly all of us have to deal with these days decided early on that if they made themselves available to people on the old technology (the telephone) they would never get any programming done or make any money, because they would spend all their time trying to explain the new technology (the computer hooked up to the Internet with information viewed in a Web browser) to individual people all day long every day.

So they developed what is called a Web form where customers can send them a message online. The form generates an e-mail message, which can be passed on to the appropriate parties in an organization or a corporation, and someone can take the time to respond with an e-mail (often with a no-reply option, so the customer can’t keep sending them multiple messages all day long every day and calling them all kinds of nasty names, LOL : )

They also developed the Web Forum, where customers can look up information to help them understand the technology and to post questions for staff and volunteer techies. While I can’t stand using those damn things myself, it is a way for other programmers to study other peoples’ comments and find a solution to a problem they are having on one of their customer’s Websites.

Now let’s take a look at the second point in the analogy.

Everyone around here and their brother should have heard about the recent decision by the Newhouse corporation to stop printing daily newspapers in New Orleans, Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville. If not, you can read my take on it here.

But it’s not just newspapers that are trying to do away with the use of paper. Banks have been moving their operations online for more than a decade now, yet you can still see people lined up all day long every day in their cars at bank drive-in windows dealing with cash and checks, burning all that gas and polluting the air too. I suspect I could not even get an argument to say it’s more true in the South than the rest of the country. It is widely known that change comes slower in the South.

I guess the reason I bring this up today is because I just got back form the drive-in window at a bank, where I had to give them a thumb print to cash a check, and I am not happy about the hour of my life it took — when all the client had to do was post the money in PayPal online form from an organization credit card.

So from now on, if you want to pay me by check, add a $50 service fee to the amount box, because I charge a minimum of $50 an hour for my time. If you want to pay a $50 service fee on top of the fees the bank charges, feel free to write me a check. Otherwise, forget it and send the money online. It is 2012, after all. Let’s get on it people.

Now let’s talk about the telephone.

The one technology that has caught on almost everywhere is the cell phone, a useful little device that also allows you to search the Web, find a map when you travel, send an e-mail, and check your Facebook account.

But now many people are addicted to the phone part of the cell phone itself, and don’t use the other parts so much, because let’s face it, it is not so easy to see information on such a small device, much less type messages on one of the damn things — especially if you are getting a bit up in years and your eyesight ain’t what it used to be.

What do I recommend? Get a laptop or an iBook and spend the time learning to use it. You might get someone to help you on the telephone, but there is no substitute for just spending the time with a new device and figuring it out for yourself.

Now, why, you may ask, did I bring up Ronald Reagan, Ben Franklin and the post office in all of this?

Well as you have probably heard, the post office is sort of losing money these days, in part because more and more people are using both e-mail instead of “snail mail” and private carriers to send packages.

When this country was new, some very smart people came up with the idea of the Pony Express, and then later, building roads and delivering the mail by truck. These things were not just isolated new technologies of the time, or toys, as some seem to think of computers, smart phones and Facebook. They literally helped this country develop its economy and our democratic way of life.

Ben Franklin knew this was critical, just as Thomas Jefferson knew that a free press was critical to developing a democratic republic on these shores. Franklin got the Second Continental Congress to put him in charge as Postmaster of the first United States Post Office in Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 26, 1775.

But that great Republican hero Ronald Reagan started the privatization trend in the 1980s, broke one of the first big unions (the Air Traffic Controllers) and got the Justice Department to back off on several major corporate mergers and acquisitions that led to these increasingly corrupt corporate behemoths we have to deal with today. True, it was the Reagan Justice Department that broke up ATnT, but of course that was put back together again by Southwest Bell out of Texas while George W. Bush controlled the White House and the Justice Department.

Let me ask you: Do you use an ATnT product today? Are you happy with their level of customer service? Tell the truth. You know they suck. But who are you going to turn to? Verizon? It may be even worse.

Who is there to trust for phone service, cable or satellite TV and home Internet access these days?

If there is one corporation that is better than any other, I have not identified it yet. I spent a couple of hours just yesterday, on a Sunday no less, in a chat window online in a Web window with tech help at Charter.net. I finally got my two problems solved, one with an e-mail server issue and another with a modem cache problem. By the end of it, I was about ready to toss my MacBook Pro at the wall and say to hell with it and become a dropout from the Internet, like the hippies in the 1960s who said, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”

But I know myself too well. Like I told an environmental activist friend in an e-mail message the other day, I wouldn’t make it a week as a drop out. I will spend the time to figure out how to use this technology to make a difference, or be damned doing it.

You have to make the decision for yourself about what technologies you deal with and how you deal with them. But do me a favor when you deal with me. Don’t blame me for your computer illiteracy and lack of online acumen. It ain’t my fault, LOL : )

© 2012, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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