Information Fiefdoms

Social Media Information OverloadYesterday, I found myself standing in Nigel Khan’s bookstore in Southpark, looking at what I consider old books.

I have a habit when I look at books, something I picked up in Trinidad some years ago after the Internet became more than a novelty. I check the date a book was published. It keeps me from buying antiques, though I have also been known to buy books in thrift shops abroad (though I am very picky).

I found myself looking at Tim Wu’s ‘The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires‘. Given some of the stuff I’d been talking about in different circles, it interested me – and Tim Wu I knew from his work with Network Neutrality. I checked the publication date.

November, 2010.
It’s August, 2018.

8 years. 5.33 evolutions of Moore’s Law, which is unfair since it isn’t a technology book – but it’s an indicator. Things change quickly. Information empires rise and fall in less time these days – someone was celebrating integrating something with OneNote in one of the groups I participate in, thinking that he’d finally gotten things on track – when, in fact, it’s just a snapshot more subject to Moore’s Law than anyone cares admit – except for the people who want to sell you more hardware and more software. They’ve evolved to the subscription model to make their financial flow rates more consistent, while you, dear subscriber, don’t actually own anything you subscribe to.

You’re building a house with everything on loan from the hardware store. When your subscription is up, the house disappears.

Information empires indeed. Your information may be your own, but how you get to it is controlled by someone who might not be there tomorrow.

We tend to think of information in very limited ways when we are in fact surrounded by it. We are information. From our DNA to our fingerprints, from our ears to our hair follicles – we are information, information that moves around and interacts with other information. We still haven’t figured out our brains, a depressing fact since it seems a few of us have them, but there we have it.

Information empires. What separates data from information is only really one thing – being used. Data sits there; it’s a scalar. Information is a vector – and really, information has more than one vector. Your mother is only a mother to you – she might be an aunt to someone else, a boss to someone else, an employee to someone else, and a daughter to your grandmother. Information allows context, and there’s more than one context.

If you’re fortunate, you see at least one tree a day. That tree says a lot, and you may not know it. Some trees need a lot of water, some don’t. Some require rich soil, some don’t. Simply by existing, it tells us about the environment it is in. Information surrounds us.

Yet we tend to think of information in the context of libraries, or of database tables. And we tend to look at Information Empires – be they by copyright, by access (Net Neutrality, digital divide, et al), or simply because of incompatible technologies. They come and go, increasingly not entering the public domain, increasingly lost – perhaps sometimes for good.

And if you go outside right now and stand, breathing the air, feeling the wind, watching the foliage shift left and right, you are awash in information that you take for granted – an empire older than we are, information going between plants through fungus.

There are truly no information empires in humanity other than those that are protected by laws. These are fiefdoms, gatekeepers to information.

The information empire – there is only one – surrounds us.

Browser Tab Hell: There’s a Chrome Extension For It.

I might have too many tabs open (300+)I rebooted the system I use for writing most this morning after I did a firmware update.

Then, I opened my browser. This happened roughly 4 hours ago and I went about things normally.

Suddenly, I have 24 tabs open.

I can’t tell you how it happened.

The part of me that doesn’t want to take responsibility for my actions was quick to come up with a theory that browser tabs actually procreate and have children tabs. This makes sense since at least some of the tabs are clearly descendants of others, despite the fact that they are graphically shown as a line across the top of my browser.

In a way, they are descendants… and I’m apparently the medium through which they procreate. It’s hard not to feel a little dirty and used when you think about things that way.

In the end, I am responsible for this mess. I did this to myself. How can I possibly avoid it? One school of thought is that one should avoid opening tabs. I don’t subscribe to that point of view.

What I would subscribe to, however, is improving browsers so that they don’t keep tabs open beyond an amount of time that I want them to stay open, degrading like leaves on a wet day.

Well look at that. Despite coming up with the idea on my own, someone beat me to it – if you’re running Chrome, check out this Tab Autoclose Timer so you won’t have to ponder the existentialism of browser tabs.

Facebook And Your Finances

broken suicidal pigJust as Facebook is recovering from the privacy concerns related to Cambridge Analytica, including threat of lawsuit from one UK group, is now even more interested in your data.

Facebook is after your financial data:

…Facebook already has smaller agreements with financial institutions, including PayPal and American Express, that allow users to do things such as review transaction receipts on Facebook Messenger. In March, Facebook launched a service that would allow Citibank customers in Singapore to ask a Messenger chatbot for their account balance, their recent transactions and credit card rewards.

It’s a strange world we live in where we trust those that have not been trustworthy in the past. ‘To err is human, to forgive is divine.’

Are you divine? I’m not. I’m sure, though, that connecting the accounts will require buy-in from consumers.

In Trinidad and Tobago, I’m sure it will mean more photocopies.

Where Communication Fails

Communication is the keyIt amazes me how people make things more difficult through communication, enough so that sometimes I wonder if there is a special group of us that talks to ourselves for lack of anyone else receiving on the other end.

Exhibit A.

Last year, here in Trinidad and Tobago, someone asked me to be a reference on a visa application – which I willingly did because I know these people. I was at their house, filled out the form for their granddaughter and thought this was done other than a phone call. There was no signature, just the filling out of a name, address and phone number – as most references are.

Time passed – maybe a week. The grandfather calls me and tells me that they had filled out the old form and that they needed a new form filled out – and so, I told him it was a simple matter of copying the information over. He said that the new document needed a signature, which I was sure was not the case. He insisted, dropped by…

And lo! There was no signature necessary. It was as I expected, the form simply needing the same information that was on the old form, that anyone could have copied over. I showed him that, and he got upset with me. I filled it out anyway. We’re friends.

Why did he get upset? It took some time to unravel that. This 70-something year old man was upset because his granddaughter told him it needed my signature. She’s in her mid-20s, a product of an education system that apparently can’t distinguish between simply filling out a name and actually signing something.

It broke down to a functional literacy failure, something that I’ve found increasingly common.

Exhibit B

I was ordering a breakfast I normally order at a place I am a regular at, from a lady I normally order from and who is familiar with my order. The scene was tense for some reason as I walked in, having nothing to do with me. Yes, I asked, and she would have told me – which is why I value this relationship.

The sound of the AC was buzzing above the register, and the background noise of the busy place was at a high. I hear her say that there’s ‘No ham bacon’.

I’m puzzled by this. “Do you have ham?”

“No ham bacon”.

We go on like this for a few moments. She doesn’t speak up. I’m not understanding what she’s trying to tell me, and I know that she is trying to help me. After a while, it gets sorted out when she finally raises her voice a bit so I can hear over the background noise – when she spoke quietly, her voice was deeper and it merged with the underlying buzz.

She was saying there was no ham, only bacon.

But why couldn’t I hear her? Frankly, maybe I should get my hearing checked – I should get on that – but the other part of it was that she was upset and was making a conscious effort not to raise her voice because she was upset about other things.

This was a situational communication problem. Had we not known each other, it probably wouldn’t have ended with both of us laughing.

Exhibit C

I’d sold a piece of land to someone who was already on it – a simple solution (hack) to a silly problem caused by laws in Trinidad and Tobago – and a year had passed.

Out of the blue, I see this person is trying to contact me on Facebook messenger – by calling me (who does that?). So I message them back, and they message me that they were having trouble registering the deed. A year later.

Now, they had my phone number. After a year, this suddenly became an emergency – which is easy to judge someone on without knowing how their life is, but a year is a long time and I know that the deed registration had to have been done or I would have heard about it from the lawyer, who I do know, and who has done other transactions similarly.

Something wasn’t adding up, and it was already clear that this was a communication error.

I sent them my phone number – they should already have had it. Then they tell me that they don’t have my phone number. I respond that I just sent it. “Scroll up.”, I typed, even as I wanted to scream it.

11 messages and 5 phone calls later, they tell me that they’re at the tax office and can’t find the deed number. And this is where a lack of specialized knowledge created the core communication error – they were confusing the assessment number and deed number up, and finally, after repeating myself a few times, it sunk in. They blamed the government office for not telling them, but based on everything I had experienced with the person…

I was pretty sure that the person just wasn’t paying attention to what anyone had told them, written to them, or tattooed on their forehead. The whole situation showed over and over that they were not interested in finding out what they needed to know to solve their problem. They were happy just annoying people until someone held their hand and guided them to the right solution.

Maybe they were hugged too much as a child. I don’t know.

But this example shows not only a problem with understanding specialized things, but also the joys of dealing with people who do not listen well.

Exhibit D. 

In dealing with purchasing something, I ended up dealing with 3 separate entities who are allegedly working together: A lawyer, the seller, and the agent. During this process, I handed over documents required to the seller.

Their lawyer contacts me. They want me to come up and submit the very same documents to them. I explain that the seller has the documents, and the lawyer tells me that they can only receive those documents if I authorize the seller to release them.

The rub here is that the seller has their own lawyer that, by circumstance, I have to use. One would think that the documents that the seller had would be furnished to the lawyer. The lawyer explains that it’s to safeguard my privacy (nevermind all the photocopies of my IDs hanging around) – but it’s really a process failure.

In the course of a few hours, I get conflicting information from all 3 parties who were legitimately trying to help me around the process failure, which I ended up resolving by simplifying. I only need to deal with the lawyer. What she says is what we go with, in the hope that it all falls together properly.

So this was a conflicting communication error, caused by trying to work around a process failure. I have to wonder how many people get stuck in those loops.

So Many Problems.

This is just a sampling. All of these communication problems, at their core, are human problems. In an age when we can communicate so quickly all over the world – I remember a time when postcards were a big deal – we still don’t communicate well enough to make use of it.

We build things on communication. We build things on flawed communication. Technology is not waiting for us to get it right; it’s a wildfire of acceleration on all fronts.

Take a moment. Take a breath. Listen. Speak clearly. Know of what you speak of. Ask the right questions.

Communicate. The world actually does depend on it, and more specifically, your world depends on it.

Much Ado About Russia.

ПетергофIt seems like every time I open some social media site, someone’s posting about Russia. About how they allegedly influenced the U.S. Elections, about who in the Trump Administration passed notes to someone in Russia, and so on and so forth.

That’s all I know, that’s all I’m going to know, and realistically, I don’t even need to know that. Wait, what?

Right. I don’t need to know all of that. We live on this rotating sphere filled with people who are separated by lines on maps. These people – human beings, so you know – are only citizens of one country or another by accident of birth and legal policies decided before they were born. Maybe a few snuck through here and there, but that’s how it is.

And these countries used to be separated by oceans or fences or languages or… well, they were more separate than they are now on the Internet. Everyone is influencing everyone’s elections one way or the other by mouthing off on social media, so all we’re really discussing is degree.

USA Today pedantically went through 3,517 Facebook ads bought by Russians (not to be confused with the Russian government, any characters from Rocky and Bullwinkle, or Ivan Drago).

But they missed a significant point – a point that no one is talking about because it’s so inconvenient and, probably, because it doesn’t sell advertising.

Ads or no ads, those ads wouldn’t be clicked by anyone who didn’t already have a sentiment or world view that made them believe the ad in the first place. 

That sentiment could not have been Russian. It wasn’t from Pluto, either. That sentiment that allowed that advertising to work, if indeed it did, was part of the United States.

Either that, or Russians are running amok in the U.S., holding guns to people’s heads and telling them to click the advertisements.

I suppose these days, anything is possible.

How many photocopies of ID, T&T?

Computerize THIS.Everywhere I go these days in Trinidad and Tobago, it seems someone wants to photocopy two forms of my identification.

My bank has multiple copies. Lawyers have multiple copies. The government has multiple copies – and guess who issues identification? Water (WASA), Electricity (T&TEC)… the list goes on.

And everywhere that there are photocopies of my identification, people I don’t know have access to them. How can I possibly trust a system that allows anyone photocopies of identification in files?

You want to see two forms of identification – fair enough. You don’t trust the people who are seeing them, so you have them photocopied – now, you clearly don’t trust these people, but you ask the individual to trust them with access to the same photocopies.

There seems to be a special part of the Amazon Forest dedicated to this need for everyone to have photocopies of everyone else’s identification here in Trinidad and Tobago.

It’s just asking for identity theft, or corruption – because those photocopies can be… photocopied… and then they can be photocopied… and since these systems require photocopies… who knows what all these photocopies will be used for?

It’s outrageous. Processes that require photocopies of identification are severely outdated.

I’d even say that they should be made illegal.

Please photocopy this post and hand it to people who are photocopying your identification.

Technology and Mediation

Open source photography -- are you in or out?As I mentioned before, I recently took a level 1 mediation course and in doing that, I began looking at many things through a new lens. It’s a process, and since it’s my life, much of what I’ve looked at relates to technology.

Looking through such a lens, though, reveals a mess.

Nature, Tech and Mediation

When we think of technology these days, we tend to think of the Internet related technologies, technologies that through our lifetime have run through our lives like fire – seemingly unstoppable, without an ability to individually control them and how they impact our lives. This is because fire, like the wheel and other technologies like them, are based on natural laws. There is no control over natural laws, there is only an understanding of them and use of that understanding.

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.
– Richard P. Feynman, Appendix F of the Rogers Commission Report (on the Challenger disaster).

With Internet technologies, though, it’s not so much about nature because, while the platform is derived from natural laws, what is used on them is defined by human minds. By code, and what that code works on: our content.

The Code

Why does code work the way it does? It’s typically consensus of the group involved with writing it, which varies. The Open Source and Free Software communities have a meritocracy structure, and proprietary approaches tend to a more corporate structure. The ‘object oriented’ approach means code gets re-used, which means that it becomes something plugged into applications it may not originally be designed for – and because it works for the criteria of the project.

Just because something works for the criteria of a project, though, doesn’t mean it’s the best fit – something I’ve seen all too many times. And the criteria of the project are almost never complete; when you set code out in the wild of the world subject to users, their interactions can take projects down paths one never expected.

In this way, code and fire are similar. Software Engineers and companies like to think that they have everything thought out, but we typically miss something as we chase a deadline or the deadline chases us. And this is where that similarity with fire disappears: the code evolves, or the project dies.

In all of this, where does mediation happen? Absolutely nowhere. Any piece of code is a balance of negotiations between what the developers think the consumers want, the timeline, and whatever the company or open source community decides …and nowadays, what the company and the open source community decide.

The end users, the consumers, the majority of people, really don’t have too much of a say in any of this. There is one methodology that forces consumer interaction more than others (DevOps), but it’s only for more finite projects and even then is a negotiation with an opportunity of mediation that I have never seen or heard of happening.

“You get what we write.” – every software company, ever, til they get sold or closed.

The Content

The Internet evolved and continues to evolve because of the complexity of the platform allows it to. While we tend to think we have control over this, it has encircled smaller communities without it, raging like a wildfire. A lot of that has to do with content.

When it comes to content there’s no true mediation, either – my last entry on journalism and social media points to people deciding to mediate – to actively listen, to actively summarize, and to be neutral. Of course, that’s all silly because humans aren’t very good at that. As a society, we’re happier with 30 minutes of silly people screaming at each other over non-issues than we are with a 2 hour documentary on why silly people scream at each other. It boggles the rational mind, but there it is. Our technology has outstripped us in this regard.

A controversial blog post with a catchy title will be shared across social media even if it’s completely wrong. Statistically, the people who share actual scientific research is pretty slim – but the people who share opinions on such things is devastatingly large. There is a happiness people find in this conflict that baffles the calm mind.

So, all this content is out there – generating money, having political importance, allegedly influencing elections (another thing to have an opinion on) – and that drives the underlying technology, both hardware and software.

Hardware, for the most part, simply makes things possible and makes things faster. Software gets more and more bloated as software manufacturers make it easier to write code within their own frameworks – nothing beyond the box is encouraged. Thinking inside the box is where the majority of developers now live, depending on a framework to make a living.

There’s just no mediation here.

And the question arises whether there should be.

 

Mediation, Media, Social Media, Journalism

El Mercurio newsroom
El Mercurio Newsroom, by JD Lasica.

We use language and communication so much that sometimes we take it for granted.

‘Media’, ‘mediation’ – when we look at these words, it’s all but impossible to note the exact first 5 letters. This is no coincidence. They both derive from the noun, ‘medium‘. Digging further gets you to a Proto-Indian root, ‘*medhyo‘, something you can drill further down into if you wish.

It’s an interesting history in not words, but concepts and thoughts. Medium has been used to describe, ‘intermediate agency, channel of communication’ since around 1600. The basis of ‘media’ and ‘mediate’ is medium. Are they so different in concept?

In theory, no. In practice these days, it’s hard to say.

Mediation

As mentioned before, I took the first level of training in Mediation at the Conflict Resolution and Media Center of Trinidad and Tobago, and after hours I began thinking about the common etymology of ‘media’ and ‘mediate’ which got us to where we are, here. Yet when I look at the two as they are now, through a fresh lens, that seems to be the only way in which they are linked other than through some serendipity.

Mediation is a confidential process that works toward resolution of conflict through communication facilitated by a neutral third party. I did learn a few things.

Media, on the other hand, has come to mean any communication over one or more mediums. Newspapers use paper and literacy, radio uses sound and radio frequencies, television uses sound, video technologies, and sometimes literacy, and the Internet combines all of these to varying extents. ‘Social Media’ is redundant, really, because all media is social – it’s really media that allows easier feedback, and these day, allows things to be shared faster than other forms of media, driven by interests of users.

From Media To Journalism

‘Media’ encapsulates entertainment, education, and news. However, these days, we hear it used in the context of ‘news’ a lot. The lines between entertainment, education and news have blurred with the ‘talking heads’ and the prevalence of bias to sell advertising or simply to keep it. So when we hear about ‘The Media’ in this context, it’s about a specific use of the media. It’s about what we are given as news. And journalism is where ‘news’ is supposed to come from, or where we say it’s supposed to come from.

If you talk to anyone with a point of view, they will say that there is bias in published journalism – be it published in print, on radio, on television, or on the Internet – and that’s where things can get fuzzy. And so does what a journalist actually is. As Mark Lyndersay points out in , “What Is A Journalist?“:

…Paul Richards asked, “Who or what constitutes a journalist and should be protected by this?”

“And more importantly, who should not be considered a journalist?”

The American Press Institute notes, “Asking who is a journalist is the wrong question, because journalism can be produced by anyone.”

As the Institute explains on a series of pages on its website dedicated to considering the role of journalism professionals (report here), the journalist is a “committed observer.”

In 2011, “We Are All Journalists Now” by Scott Gant covered the same issue. It’s 7 years later, and I’m not sure society has changed enough to deal with it sensibly. And if we get into the etymology of ‘journalist’, we find this:

1690s, “one whose work is to write or edit public journals or newspapers,” from French journaliste.

As A.J. Liebling wrote, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” The Internet gave everyone with access to the Internet access to such a press. To publish publicly without a media organization, potentially publishing things less biased by advertisers – but then, to make money, advertising became necessary, and all that happened was the atomizing of the same business model.

What all of this really gets to, though, is an phrase attributed to Edmund Burke, supposedly used in a debate in 1787  when the House of Commons of Great Britain was opened to the press.

Indirect But Significant Influence

There are 2 definitions of the Fourth Estate defined on Dictionary.com:

  1. the journalistic profession or its members; the press.
  2. a group other than the usual powers, as the three estates of France, that wields influence in the politics of a country.

The first definition fit better before the Internet, where there was a more substantial difference between journalists and the general public. The second definition fits better in modern times, where we can all publish. And there you have the link between journalism and the public as it shifts in one definition.

These days, the more popular what you share is, the more influence you have – for better or worse. What others share that you have demonstrates how much influence you have as well – a closed circuit.

Thus, if we can get past definitions of ‘journalist’ and ‘journalism’, words doomed to a period when journalists broadcast instead of interacted, we get back to us all being a part of the Fourth Estate.

But what does this all have to do with mediation? Not that much right now, it seems, and yet, maybe it should. The Fourth Estate is necessarily not confidential, but maybe it could be more neutral. Maybe that’s what they should have in common. Maybe that ‘neutral third party’ should be everyone publishing to some metaphorical public journal. Maybe we should all be facilitating facts instead of regurgitating hearsay – after all, hearsay is heresy.

An informed public, after all, is what I expect from journalism. What I get, on the other hand, hardly seems to fit Journalistic Ethics and Standards. I can’t criticize what happens in the industry, because all I know is hearsay – but I can make a few distinctions that I believe can accepted and agreed upon as truths in the context of journalism aspect of the media:

  • When it comes to the media in the context of news, people need to be informed. They want to be entertained. The two are separate.
  • Publishers are the ‘media’, journalists are not the media unless they self-publish. If they don’t self-publish, they just work for the media.
  • With the atomization of the Fourth Estate, anyone who publishes has a greater responsibility when using their influence.

In these ways and more, we might get ‘media’ and ‘mediation’ to make more sense together when we see those common five letters.

 

On Mediation

Inland Storm Meets The Atlantic at New Smyrna Beach (B&W)
A Storm On New Smyrna Beach, FL, by Taran Rampersad. All rights reserved.

I recently took the level one course on Mediation at the Conflict Resolution and Mediation Centre of Trinidad and Tobago. This by no means makes me an expert on mediation (yet?), but it makes me more informed than others.

Conflict is something we deal with every day. Conflict is not something we’re always good at dealing with, either, no matter how well we think we do. Therefore, sometimes we need that catalyst to move things forward – and mediation has many advantages over other ways of dealing with conflict. You can learn that in the courses.

How we deal with conflict varies from person to person, from organization to organization, from incident to incident, and is biased by things as simple as having a good night of sleep or not – or being triggered by things that may or may not have a bearing on the situation.

Right or wrong, conflict changes us just as a storm does. This leads to a quote I use often – and here I’ll give it in it’s entirety:

Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

An you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.

Haruki Murakami, Kafka On The Shore.

Mediation is one way out of the storm that facilitates the communication necessary to resolve conflict. It’s about being neutral, about being confidential and thus allowing trust between parties. It’s about actual communication beyond the dueling monologues we encounter all too often. It’s about facilitating resolution. And, it’s a process.

Mediation happens all around us every day, and it’s the sort of thing you don’t read or hear about – it’s necessarily confidential. From family disputes to business disputes, it facilitates the resolutions. And, through what I expect were relatively simple vignettes, I can tell you that it’s not easy to do and that not everyone can mediate.

Because of all of that, because of training I hope I will not waste, and because of my own background I saw other things not covered by the course. It gave me new tools to look at things, a new lens through which I could focus my mind. In that way and other ways, I highly recommend the training at the Conflict Resolution and Mediation Centre of Trinidad and Tobago. Check out the CRMC Facebook page as well. 

Like any good training, you get out of it what you put in. More than that, though, is that lens through which we can look at other things.

I’ll be writing more about these things over the course of the next few entries – new ways of looking at things that have been on my mind that may not relate directly to mediation itself.

Customer Service Post Mortem: Ugh

Public 'Services'

I went to pick up a few boxes of contacts at the optometrist company I presently deal with. I won’t write of the fact that they wanted me to pay more to have my prescription myself instead of being monopolized by them – a tactic abandoned in other countries.

On this particular day, it was the quarter finals of the World Cup – something I had chosen to miss because I had a friend in the hospital I wanted to see. I arrived with ample time to get that done, pick up some medications and get to the hospital for visiting hours. A young lady met me at the counter, as usual. And then, having pulled me up on the system, asked me to have a seat in the back – a seat which faced an empty desk. I sat for a while, with someone else there – a lady as I recall – and we discussed the match for a few minutes before she was called away.

I sat there, alone, for some minutes, occupying myself with the phone. Nothing was happening. I could hear people moving around, so I stood up and surveyed the situation calmly – there were three people with three customers. There were three other people who, upon seeing me watching got busy with shelving. One asked the others if someone was at lunch, which apparently was true. It was 3:30 p.m.

Now, getting contacts shouldn’t be a process like this. Everywhere else on the planet, they pull up my prescription on the computer, see if it’s in stock and if it is, I pay for them and leave. This takes less than 10 minutes on a bad day. On a good day, less than 5 minutes. That day, I had passed the 15 minute mark.

I started to leave – I had other things to do before heading to the hospital, and I would be busy the next day so I needed to get these things done that day. One of the busy people, one with a customer, left her customer apologetically and told me she would be right with me, and I explained to her firmly that getting my contacts or even ordering them is a simple process. The unspoken was that any of the three people who were playing with shelving could have gotten onto the system, see I had an up to date prescription, and then sell them to me. The argument could be that they were unqualified.

What I saw, as a customer, was people who should be able to handle a simple transaction avoiding me. My experience, with this company, is that they think I come to their office to sit down and wait for what should be a standing transaction – every time.

I went, ordered and purchased medications at the pharmacy, and went back to the optometrist where I was immediately seen by a customer service person. She was diligent to the point of aggravation, going back to physical files instead of trusting the computer system that all their customers pay for to have better convenience. I mentioned that. She wanted to be sure. I can understand that, but it added to the irritation.

But the real conversation I left with was this:

“Mr. Rampersad, I know you probably want to get to see the football game and…”
“It’s not about the football game. I’m rushed.”
“Well you shouldn’t rush all the time…”

Yes, she did that. I stared at her and quietly said, “I am not in a rush, I am rushed. I had three things to do. The first was at least order the contacts, the second was to pick up medication, and the third was to see my friend in the hospital.” I looked at my watch. “And now, we’re wasting visiting hours. I’m rushed because a simple thing is taking too long. The time it took me to get medications is exactly how long it should take to get my contacts.”

Silenced, we went through the rest of it as quickly as she could. After I got rid of her preconception that me needing to get things done in a timely manner, unrushed, was about football and which, therefore, she didn’t think was important.

In essence, she didn’t think my needs were important. There are flaws in the process I have seen at this place over the months, one of which is constantly asking me to sit down for things that should be able to be done in minutes.

And I’m pretty sure that when my prescription runs out with them, I’ll be finding a new optometrist company to deal with because I vote with my feet – and wallet. Because I don’t settle for paying someone to prejudge me, my intentions, and why I need things done quickly.