The Plight of Online Applications

I’m a fan of online forms… when they’re done properly. A well designed online form makes the application process easy, seamless, and smooth. Typically this would include being able to use the form on any kind of device. Documents and photos could be uploaded easily, sometimes even directly from the phone’s camera app.

This was not how my last experience went applying for a visa online. The whole process was fraught with frustration and annoyance at how poorly everything happened. First of all, I read through the documents to make sure I had all the right paperwork assembled. This required me to create some self-declarations and scan a whole bunch of documents. I had to pay for physical passport photos, then scan the printed copies to attach to the application.

Once I had everything ready, I started filling out the forms. The application erased the first page of information when I selected the “save and continue” option. Everytime I saved the application and returned to it later, one of the questions reverted from “no” to “yes”. Other questions I found blank, even though I had already entered in responses. When I finally reached the end, to upload the passport photo and passport scan, more trouble started. The application would only accept the photo in jpeg and the passport in PDF, but not more than 300kb. This is an extremely small file. Even compressed, my passport scan was around 500kbs. I eventually figured out how to make the file small enough. It was a complicated process of cropping, taking screenshots, pasting to a Word document, resizing the image, then exporting as a PDF. Basically, a LOT of effort.

The payment page also caused challenges requiring me to wait 13 minutes to try again. It was a very specific amount of time. In the end, the application never asked me to supply any documents beyond the photo and passport scan. This was also extremely frustrating as I had spent a lot of time creating, collecting, scanning, and saving all the other documents on the checklist.

At more than one point in the process, I seriously considered taking a vacation day to go to the consulate and submit everything personally, in paper. Though equally frustrating, it may have ended up being an easier submission process. Now there’s nothing left to do except wait and hope I submitted everything correctly.

The Digital Mob Takes Shape

When I blogged about the Decree of the Digital Mob, How the Internet Makes or Breaks You, I didn’t fully realize the potential. This past week I felt disheartened reading about the actions of a group of teenagers. The group created over 20 accounts impersonating teachers. Then posted incriminating and false information. Some of the accounts included photos of the teachers taken from other social media accounts and reposted.

Growing up we had a limited number of options available for expressing anger or annoyance towards a teacher. Maybe somebody played a prank, drew a mean picture, or wrote a nasty note. Once delivered, the reach of the offensive action was contained. Existing in analog meant the information couldn’t travel very fast or very far. Though people could talk about something, it was just talk. There were no instant photos, hoards of followers, written commentary, or AI to fabricate deepfakes.

Digitally harassing over 20 teachers likely took mere minutes. Unlike in my time, the reach was far, the pace was fast, and the damage far more lasting. It’s bad enough people can create fake images and deepfakes on their own accounts of other people. Having a group of teenagers create many fake accounts, populated with fake content feels shocking, but sadly very believable.

In complex scenarios, such as this one, it’s hard to even know where to place blame and accountability. Obviously some of both reside with the teenagers themselves. But Tik Tok also has some of the share for making it so easy for others to create fake accounts, a policy violation. Additionally, the consequences for both teenagers, Tik Tok, and maybe the parents, are not clear. Though for the teachers, it’s evident their lives are marked forever.

All of this amplifies a growing unease about the power, extent, and inability to put guardrails on social media. Or if it is even still possible to have more controls. People have grown accustomed to the freedoms online personas afford them. This could include impersonation, cyberbullying, posting falsehoods about others, and in general, not having to take accountability for their actions. If controls are possible, who is responsible for defining, implementing, and enforcing them?

Honoring Your Criteria

While cleaning out my filing cabinet this past weekend I came across something curious and useful!

I had thoughtfully labeled all of my tax receipts with a destruction date to make it easy for my future self. Now, as my future self, I stared at years of backlog. I had receipts dating back to 2008! After silently giving my past self lots of praise for this courtesy, my curiosity heightened. Why hadn’t I listened? Why was I only now, in 2024, tossing these envelopes into the shred bin?

The experience reminded me of one I had in my early days as a Records Manager. One summer I was tasked to clean out what we fondly called, “The Room of Doom.” A sub-level storage unit in a nearby office building housed over 1000 boxes of records for the company. The story of how it ended up there was long and sordid. But my job was to get rid of everything in mere months due to a sudden and dramatic change to the rent.

My summer student and I, attired in hazmat suits, masks, and little white booties, trudged to the unit three times a week.

It was unbelievably dusty and dank. Box by box, row by row, we went through everything. What struck me most about this exercise was how many hundreds of boxes had been labeled “destroy yyyy.” It was 2010, but the overwhelming majority of dates were from the early 2000’s. Essentially, similar to my own home scenario, except involving hundreds of boxes rather than a few envelopes. As I went through row after row of boxes, the persistent question of “why didn’t they just destroy the records as indicated?” kept floating around my brain. And now, 14 years later, why didn’t I?

Here are a few possible answers:

  1. Once things are out of sight, i.e., in a filing cabinet drawer or cavernous sub-level storage unit, it’s easy to forget about them.
  2. Ample storage space eliminates the urgency and drive to get rid of things.
  3. Lack of a strong routine.
  4. While I find purging immensely satisfying, not everybody does. Going through documents can be tedious.

However, regardless of the underlying reason, it’s important to honor your criteria. When going through my files, I neither questioned nor hesitated the decision I made years ago to destroy. I confidently tossed all the envelopes right into the shred bin.

Lists and Why We Love Them

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to “Lists” on This American Life. As a life-long list maker, I could relate to the topic and the stories. Lists are so heavily incorporated into my daily life, I rarely stop to consider their significance. In essence, they’re kind of basic. Yet, we all seem to use them for one thing or another. What is it about a list that makes them so effective, so popular, and so enduring?

In my entire life, I’ve never had to explain, or teach anyone, how to use a list. They’re self-explanatory. This is a strong selling point for those of us in the pro-list camp. We rely on all kinds of lists to get through our daily lives. These lists include grocery lists, task lists, invitation lists, decision lists, and packing lists to name a few. I even have a list in one of my apps called “Shopping” that contains smaller lists for specific stores with a checklist of items I need from each one. Lists within a list.

There’s something innately satisfy about crossing off completed tasks from my to-do lists. Sometimes I even add finished tasks that weren’t originally on the list solely to have the satisfaction of crossing them out. It also gives me a sense of how much I’ve actually accomplished.

Equally satisfying is giving something a “home” to rest in a list. All of a sudden, that random thought belongs somewhere. For example, I keep a list of Deletist posting ideas. In fact, I have more than one list for jotting down future blog ideas. Lists provide a safe spot to remember things. They can securely contain that question, or those grocery items, provided we remember where that safe place is and remember to look at it when we need to.

Where lists get messy for me is when I try to combine different aspects. For example, I want tasks grouped by project, but then also have the ability to rearrange them by priority, status, or deadline without a lot of manual effort. I’ve explored some task management apps, but they always end up being more work than pen and paper. Besides, it’s inherently more satisfying to strike the item than any of the digital options available.

I’m sure one day I’ll find the perfect system. Until then, I’m maintaining a wish list of all the things I want it to do.

How to Use the Phone

Shortly after publishing last week’s post, “Everything But the Phone…” I discovered some people don’t know how to use it. By “it” I mean the phone part of the smartphone. The part that’s used to dial another person’s phone number and have a conversation. While some people may not like using the phone to communicate, it never occurred to me that they wouldn’t know how. Using the phone to make a call feels like one of those foundational and rudimentary basic communication skills. Yet, I was listening to a consultant speak on the morning radio program about how he works with clients who don’t know how to make or receive calls.

This week I heard another radio segment of an interview with a Gen Z worker who also didn’t know how to use the phone. Or at least didn’t use it regularly. I think part of the challenge arose from having to speak to someone in real time without seeing them. I’m sure this is quite different from what the younger generation does.

I grew up with the phone being a primary form of communication, along with in-person interactions. Added to this was the analog version of social media, i.e., passing notes to one another. Some of the notes had very elaborate folding techniques. We used a wide range of paper options. We hand-wrote everything, since accessing computers with printers and typing messages was not the norm. I included a picture of these notes in one of my first ever blog posts “Getting Rid of Clutter.”

Even though how I use the phone has changed dramatically in many ways I’m not afraid to call someone. In fact, sometimes it’s even quicker, more efficient, and more convenient. For example, if I have to change a service or I need additional information. In these instances, I find the chatbots providing help are pretty useless.

However, on the personal side, I’m less likely to call a friend without first messaging to confirm they’re available. Another annoying habit I have is to follow up on a voicemail with a message or email. Replying in writing can sometimes be easier. People can receive, read, or respond to an email or message at any time of day. Whereas calls typically happen in a smaller timeframe.

It seems the phone, in some shape or form, is here to stay. So I better keep my skills honed.

Everything But the Phone…

I rarely think twice about calling my smartphone a phone. Though every once in a while, I pause, thinking about what exactly my phone has become. Sometimes it feels strange to call it a phone, when it seems to do everything except act like an actual phone!

What exactly am I carrying around in my pocket all day?

  • A news source
  • Internet connection with access to all kinds of resources
  • Communication (audio, visual, and written)
  • Music
  • Books (audio and electronic)
  • Podcasts
  • Movies
  • Camera
  • Banking
  • Shopping
  • Calendar and Organizing
  • And so much more!

No wonder we’re on our “phones” so much. They do everything for us. And we do everything on them. How did the humble phone transform into a pocket-sized device for everything, but still retain the same name? If I think back to the phone I grew up with the two things aren’t even comparable. My childhood phone had rotary dial. A short, curly cord came out of the base, literally tethering me to the device. It was heavy with a chunky receiver and only came in plain, solid colors. Soon push buttons replaced the rotary dial, then cordless capabilities. Eventually the phone became mobile, but how it morphed into the mini computers and cameras is somewhat astonishing.

Before I got my first smartphone, I couldn’t understand why people were on them so much. They are fascinating and distracting, but I didn’t realize how reliant we would be on them for everything. It must seem strange to children why adults on on their phones so much. For today’s kids “being on the phone” means something totally different than it did for me. As a kid, I spent hours on the phone chatting with my friends late into the night. Along with the rotary phones and new-age push-buttons, we also didn’t initially have things like “call-waiting”, where another call could break through. Or forward to voice mail. Instead, the person calling would get a busy signal. Nothing else. No other options existed to reach someone since we didn’t have email, social media, texting, or messaging. Somehow, we still managed to reach each other, make plans, hang out, and connect.

When we get the next generation of devices, which I’m sure will be implanted in our bodies or brains somehow, will we still call them phones? Or add “smart” to the front of whatever we call it?