Accidental Ammunition for the Infowars

I’ve been checking in on the trials against Alex Jones for a while. I still recall where I was when I first heard about Sandy Hook. Horrified and shocked by the shooting, I almost had to leave work early that day. I wasn’t surprised, however, that even this horrific shooting 10 years ago didn’t result in meaningful gun reform. Though I am continually surprised and horrified hearing how the grieving parents have been terrorized. This is mainly due to conspiracy theories on Infowars that Sandy Hook was a hoax.

This latest twist, of the wrong information ending up in the wrong hands, is an irony nobody could have anticipated. Apparently Jones’s lawyers mistakenly sent two years worth of texts to the plaintiffs. Some of the texts may be evidence that Jones perjured himself.

From my perspective, it highlights two important aspects of the digital age of information. Though I would never recommend hiring Jones’s lawyers, I’m glad they messed up.

  1. Making mistakes like this, i.e., sending the wrong information, is easy to do.
  2. There’s too much information to manage! This leads to human errors. .

I can’t know for sure how the lawyers exchanged information. However, my thought is that some of it happened through email. At one point or another, I’m sure we’ve all mistakenly attached the wrong version of a document. Or maybe hit “reply all” instead of to one recipient. Or maybe linked to the wrong source. Perhaps even emailed the wrong person. It happens.

There are lots of reasons why this happens. Many people don’t take the time to name their documents properly. I see vague, nondescript document titles all the time. Or worse, people leave the random computer/scanner generated name as the title. Another challenge is with version control. Many organizations haven’t implemented proper systems to manage document versions effectively. In these scenarios, it’s easy to circulate, or use, the wrong version.

This all leads to the second point. The volume of information we all interact with daily makes it unmanageable. Now I’m not excusing the incompetence of Jones’s lawyers. It’s their job to share the right information. I’m pointing out that when people are managing huge volumes of information from a variety of sources (e.g., texts, emails, images, documents, social media apps, etc.), things can get messy. But if it leads to an infowars win on the right side of things, I’m not complaining.

The Customer Experience Saga Continues

Almost a week after I submitted the photos for my accident claim, the auto body shop finally received them. By good old fashioned email! I was stunned. After that streamlined, efficient app experience, I really had high expectations.

Though we don’t know for sure, the auto body shop suspects my claim was sent prematurely. Basically, the insurance company sent the claim for a quote before I uploaded my photos. For perspective on the timeline, I started the claim Wednesday evening and added the photos Thursday morning. By the time I uploaded all the photos through my slick app experience, the auto body shop already called me. They were wondering why they got the claim but couldn’t see my photos.

Anyway, after a whole bunch of phone calls from me and the auto body shop to the insurance, the contact at the auto body shop requested to have them emailed. Otherwise, I would have had to go in person to get new photos taken, even after all my diligent efforts. Apparently, this is not a normal experience.

The auto body shop reviewed the photos. What followed was also disappointing. I received an email (!) with a quote attached from the auto body shop requesting my authorization. Naturally, I couldn’t e-sign the attachment from just any device. It was a plain, uneditable pdf. Ugh. I thought at least this part would happen through the app with sleek workflows and seamless options to review and approve requests. All from the ease and convenience of my smartphone. This was not the reality.

I’m waiting for parts to arrive. However, I remain optimistic the repairs will go smoothly.

Coincidentally, a week after my own accident, I witnessed a somewhat serious one. No fatalities, but it was surreal watching it happen, as though in slow motion, right in front of me. I found a place to park my car so I could give a witness statement.

I approached the officers at the scene. The officer collecting statements held a messy stack of papers. Each sheet contained a statement, dutifully handwritten by the officer. Once again, stunned! I gave my statement, feeling relieved I didn’t have to do the handwriting. Why isn’t this part of the process more streamlined, or at least modernized enough to collect typed statements. I have a hunch some poor soul had to scan and email those handwritten statements.

How I Learned to Move my Energy

Some years ago I attended an art therapy class at Callanish. The theme was “Loving, Kindness, and Forgiveness.” Each week, we dutifully showed up. I was never sure what to expect. Nor was I ever prepared for what happened. The sessions started out the same. We shared a small update about our lives. Then we moved straight into a guided meditation on the theme. After, we headed into the art room.

The art room felt inspiring. It was white, bright, and airy feeling. Yet, never felt clinical or like obligatory therapy. Shelves lined the walls with an assortment of craft supplies. You could knit, paint, work with clay, paper, or fabric. The possibilities were endless.

I recall one particularly hard day. One of the participants shared some heavy news with the group. A cancer recurrence. She didn’t know how to tell her kids. After meditating, we moved silently, with purpose into the art room. That day I selected two shallow boxes of different sizes to paint. I still have them.

At the end of the session, we shared our work. The participant with the hard news started crying. With a shrug of her shoulders she explained she hadn’t done much. She said all she did was put blobs of color on the paper. And that she wasn’t even sure what she was doing.

One of the facilitators looked at her kindly and said it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that she kept her energy moving. Though I didn’t realize at the time, it’s a life lesson I still carry with me over fourteen years later. When I go through a difficult patch, or feel stuck, I focus on keeping my energy moving.

The first time I blogged about this theme the message was concrete and formulaic. In reality, getting going again, or unsticking one’s energy can be a feat. And to keep the energy moving, once unstuck, can feel equally daunting. However, I always find myself going back to that one art therapy session. Some days, blobs of color on a page is good enough to do the trick.

A (somewhat) Promising Customer Service Experience

Last week I had a minor fender bender. Importantly, nobody was hurt. As the other car owner wisely said, it’s just metal and we can fix that.

I haven’t been in any kind of a car accident since the 1990’s. At that time, I wasn’t driving the car, but it was my car. I don’t recall the claims process. However, I’m sure it involved a lot of phone calls and forms (filled out in quadruplicate), and trips to the autobody shop. This time around, the experience has been completely different.

The process started with me calling the insurance company. After that, I moved to my phone to finish the claim. It was easy to downloading the app. Continuing the claim was quick. I was impressed!

I opened the app. Immediately, I saw a prompt for the claim. The instructions were clear and easy to follow. First, I submitted nine sets of photos. Each set had written instructions. It also included a diagram to illustrate exactly what to photograph and how (e.g., up close, wide lens, etc.). Despite the circumstances, I found myself oddly optimistic about this streamlined and seemingly efficient process. It was one of the first times I can remember going through a process designed around using a smartphone.

Then it didn’t live up to expectations. Around the same time I was uploading the photos, the recommended autobody shop called to follow up. Apparently, they had received the claim, but no photos! I called them to explain I had just uploaded the photos. They told me to wait a couple of business days before checking in again.

I called over 2 business days later and they still haven’t received my photos. At this point, I had to call the insurance company again to try and sort out where the photos went, my hopes and dreams for a streamlined, easy, and efficient process crushed, like my bumper. 🙁

I’m still waiting to see if the photos I uploaded make it to the autobody shop. Otherwise I’ll have to revert back to the old process and go in person for an estimate. That would be a shame.

Imagining a World without Email

This summer we acquired a summer student to help us devise modern solutions for our service inbox. Each day, the service inbox for our department receives dozens of emails on a variety of issues. Some requests are easily resolved, while others take days to answer. Some requests are urgent and time-consuming. These ones go straight to the top of the priority line, delaying others already in the queue. All this to say, it’s a big job to stay on top of all these emails, while also keeping up with other tasks.

The goal of the student is to identify our pain points and come up with options to address the challenges. To date, we’ve been through several rounds of interviews. It’s been illuminating to see all the problems distilled into colorful rows of electronic sticky notes on our virtual blackboard. The student uses big red dots to identify the most problematic ones. There are a lot of dots.

However, one thing of interest to me is that our student doesn’t even use email! Of course she uses it occasionally, but it’s not her primary mode of communication. The concept of existing without email seems foreign, yet attainable, when I start to think about better ways to manage our requests. One of my main goals is to eliminate email requests completely by using a ticketing system instead. This would require users to submit requests through a different kind of system that would allow us to track requests more effectively.

Another pain point is our current “tracking” system. We manually track everything by counting emails. It’s hideous, time-consuming, and not that accurate. We do this because the inbox doesn’t offer us a meaningful way to report on the emails.

One question our student posed during interviews required us to consider which emails had to remain as emails. After some thought, we came up with a few examples. This was mostly for communications we have with external parties, such as vendors, or professional organizations.

In discussing this further with a work colleague, also of the same generation as me, we started thinking about why we rely on email so much in our personal lives. I’m not proposing a ticketing system to manage my personal life, but maybe better alternatives are available.

Digital Dragnet Dangers

Overturning Roe v. Wade has a greater impact than I even first realized. Since the decision became official about a week ago, I’ve been seeing a lot of articles discussing the digital side of things. For example, the kinds of apps women use to track their reproductive health issues and location data, are coming under question. Now that abortion is illegal in many areas, there is a concern that data collected on women may be incriminating. This will likely include data that women input in various apps to track their health.

The first time I blogged about a period tracking app, it was in the context of self care. Lots of people love being able to track what’s going on in their bodies. Over the years I’ve tracked lots of things about my body, health, and habits manually. It’s tedious! I can understand the appeal of having apps available to do some of the “heavy lifting.” Being able to analyze patterns and notice trends is a real benefit to tracking. However, I never use self-care apps. I’ve always been nervous about the privacy and protection of the data. Another concern is who might unknowingly access or share the data.

Recently, I’ve read many articles about whether or not women should delete their period tracking apps. The concern is that in places where abortions are illegal, data from these apps could be used. It could be used as evidence about the status of, and activities related to, a women’s reproductive health. For example, is a missed period evidence of a pregnancy, another health issue, or human error? Combining this data with location tracking yields more details about a woman’s activities (e.g., missed period combined with trips to a Planned Parenthood). Even anonymizing the data isn’t enough. There are still ways to discover who it’s about.

Google has decided that they will delete location tracking history for visits to abortion clinics, along with a few other health-related locations. The question I have about this, is why collect it in the first place? Or why not create apps that protect the privacy and data of its users more effectively?