Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

Letters to authorities

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By strange coincidence, this morning I came across two letters written to a bank manager and the UK passport office. They both where written as a response (by a real or imagined person) to inefficiency, disrespect and abuse of power that such entities exercise over the individual. As customers we have little, if any, redress for such treatment. And this shows in the letters, their humour based on shared frustration.

Dear Bank Manager,

I am writing to thank you for bouncing the cheque with which I endeavoured to pay my plumber last month. By my calculations some three nanoseconds must have elapsed between his presenting the cheque, and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honour it. I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my entire salary, an arrangement which, I admit, has only been in place for eight years.

You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account with $50 by way of penalty for the inconvenience I caused your bank. My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to re-think my errant financial ways.

You have set me on the path of fiscal righteousness. No more will our relationship be blighted by these unpleasant incidents, for I am restructuring my affairs in 2000, taking as my model the procedures, attitudes and conduct of your very own bank. I can think of no greater compliment, and I know you will be excited and proud to hear it. To this end, please be advised about the following:

First, I have noticed that whereas I personally attend to your telephone calls and letters, when I try to contact you I am confronted by the impersonal, ever-changing, pre-recorded, faceless entity which your bank has become. From now on I, like you, choose only to deal with a flesh and blood person. My mortgage and loan repayments will, therefore and hereafter, no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank, by cheque, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee of your branch, whom you must nominate.

You will be aware that it is an offence under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope. Please find attached an Application Contact Status which I require your chosen employee to complete. I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative. Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Justice of the Peace, and that the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets and liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof.

In due course I will issue your employee with a PIN number which he/she must quote in all dealings with me. I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits but, again, I have modelled it on the number of button presses required to access my account balance on your phone bank service. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Let me level the playing field even further by introducing you to my new telephone system, which you will notice, is very much like yours. My Authorised Contact at your bank, the only person with whom I will have any dealings, may call me at any time and will be answered by an automated voice. By pressing Buttons on the phone, he/she will be guided through an extensive set of menus:

1. To make an appointment to see me.

2. To query a missing repayment.

3. To make a general complaint or inquiry.

4. To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there; Extension of living room to be communicated at the time the call is received.

5. To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am sleeping; Extension of bedroom to be communicated at the time the call is received.

6. To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am attending to nature; Extension of toilet to be communicated at the time the call is received.

7. To transfer the call to my mobile phone in case I am not at home.

8. To leave a message on my computer. To leave a message a password to access my computer is required. Password will be communicated at a later date to the contact.

9. To return to the main menu and listen carefully to options 1
through 9.

The contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering service. While this may on occasion involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music will play for the duration. This month I’ve chosen a refrain from The Best Of Woody Guthrie:

…….”Oh, the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are filled with silver
That the miners sweated for”

After twenty minutes of that, our mutual contact will probably know it off by heart.

On a more serious note, we come to the matter of cost. As your bank has often pointed out, the ongoing drive for greater efficiency comes at a cost – a cost which you have always been quick to pass on to me. Let me repay your kindness by passing some costs back.

First, there is the matter of advertising material you send me. This I will read for a fee of $20/page. Enquiries from your nominated contact will be billed at $5 per minute of my time spent in response. Any debits to my account, as, for example, in the matter of the penalty for the dishonoured cheque, will be passed back to you. My new phone service runs at 75 cents a minute (even Woody Guthrie doesn’t come free), so you would be well advised to keep your enquiries brief and to the point.

Regrettably, but again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover the setting up of this new arrangement.

May I wish you a happy, if ever-so-slightly less prosperous New Year.

And this one:

Subject: Passport Application

Dear Minister, I’m in the process of renewing my passport but I am a total loss to understand or believe the hoops I am being asked to jump through.

How is it that Bert Smith of T.V. Rentals Basingstoke has my address and telephone number and knows that I bought a satellite dish from them back in 1994, and yet, the Government is still asking me where I was born and on what date?

How come that nice West African immigrant chappy who comes round every Thursday night with his DVD rentals van can tell me every film or video I have had out since he started his business up eleven years ago, yet you still want me to remind you of my last three jobs, two of which were with contractors working for the government?

How come the T.V. detector van can tell if my T.V. is on, what channel I am watching and whether I have paid my licence or not, and yet if I win the government run lottery they have no idea I have won or where I am and will keep the bloody money to themselves if I fail to claim in good time. Do you people do this by hand?

You have my birth date on numerous files you hold on me, including the one with all the income tax forms I’ve filed for the past 30-odd years. It’s on my health insurance card, my driver’s licence, on the last four passports I’ve had, on all those stupid customs declaration forms I’ve had to fill out before being allowed off the planes and boats over the last 30 years, and all those insufferable census forms that are done every ten years and the electoral registration forms I have to complete, by law, every time our lords and masters are up for re-election.

Would somebody please take note, once and for all, I was born in Maidenhead on the 4th of March 1957, my mother’s name is Mary, her maiden name was Reynolds, my father’s name is Robert, and I’d be absolutely astounded if that ever changed between now and the day I die!

I apologise Minister. I’m obviously not myself this morning. But between you and me, I have simply had enough! You mail the application to my house, then you ask me for my address. What is going on? Do you have a gang of Neanderthals working there? Look at my damn picture. Do I look like Bin Laden? I don’t want to activate the Fifth Reich for God’s sake! I just want to go and park my weary backside on a sunny, sandy beach for a couple of week’s well-earned rest away from all this crap.

Well, I have to go now, because I have to go to back to Salisbury and get another copy of my birth certificate because you lost the last one. AND to the tune of 60 quid! What a racket THAT is!! Would it be so complicated to have all the services in the same spot to assist in the issuance of a new passport the same day? But nooooo, that’d be too damn easy and maybe make sense. You’d rather have us running all over the place like chickens with our heads cut off, then find some tosser to confirm that it’s really me on the goddamn picture – you know… the one where we’re not allowed to smile in in case we look as if we are enjoying the process! Hey, you know why we can’t smile? ‘Cause we’re totally jacked off!

I served in the armed forces for more than 25 years including over ten years at the Ministry of Defence in London. I have had security clearances which allowed me to sit in the Cabinet Office, five seats away from the Prime Minister while he was being briefed on the first Gulf War and I have been doing volunteer work for the British Red Cross ever since I left the Services. However, I have to get someone ‘important’ to verify who I am—you know, someone like my doctor… who, before he got his medical degree 6 months ago WAS LIVING IN PAKISTAN…

Yours sincerely, An Irate British Citizen

Reaching limits of silos not of networks

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There is talk of Metcalfe’s Plateau. Not convinced at all! Networks can but don’t need to plateau, which is defined as a point at which the marginal value of another node added to the network decreases. Depends on a type of a network and to what extend is the nature of the network understood and utilised.

Alas, no time for deeper analysis so just a few thoughts thrown into the spokes.

1. In non-networked (e.g. channel world) scale happens via aggregation. But in a decentralised network scaling happens via distribution. And yet, we still aggregate online rather than design for distribution indigenously. We still think ‘centralise’, get it all in one place so we can then find our way around and control our environment that way. It’s like going to one giant car park where everyone keeps their car every time they wish to start a journey, instead of taking their car with them as they need it and parking it as suits them. And so using as the entire road system as the platform, not the parking lot.

2. Search is the most primitive form of filtering. Also, it’s still centralised. So the limits of the web are not due to ‘there is simply to much info/too many friends etc’ but due to lack of tools that help the individual to benefit from the network to the full. Outside platforms and locks in.

3. So we may be reaching a plateau or a ceiling of our centralised channel world thinking as applied to and within the networked environment of the web, not necessarily a plateau in the Metcalfe’s law.

4. And Doc is right about the distinction between networks and groups. Groups are still siloed – an attempt to lock in the benefits of networks in the social context (social graph etc) into a ‘monetizable’ platform. No wonder it’s not working as planned! Long live the two natural online platforms – the individual and the web.

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Quote to remember

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When you take an idea or a concept and turn it into an abstraction, that opens the way to take human beings and turn them, also, into abstractions.
- Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel

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