By Eamonn Keyes
Life is hard.
Having technology was supposed to make it easier but never did. It just added even more things to complicate it. Passwords, cables, interfaces, connections and URLs.
I just spent eight days at the end of last month trying to renew an important membership. Unfortunately the agency involved had dipped a couple of toes into modern technology whilst also keeping a firm foot in the past, which doesn’t really work, as I discovered. I had an online username and password. But that didn’t get me access. I had to have a special code. Which they apparently couldn’t email to the email address they had for me. They had to post it, and they did so. To the place where I didn’t live anymore. And they were supposed to email me to tell me they’d sent it, which they didn’t do, despite having my email address, used to send me numerous unwanted updates every quarter-but not the single thing that I absolutely needed.
However, all was not lost, as I’d discovered that it was time for renewal from a colleague. I had eight days to get this done, and I phoned them to tell them I hadn’t received this code and couldn’t get it in time. Could they do this by phone or email?
Hah! No. I had to do an entirely new application first, giving my present address, which I did within the hour, and posted it right away.
By day four I emailed them asking if they’d received it. No response. So I phoned. I was asked for my address, and, since they apparently only had my old one, gave them that for supporting identification. No. It was wrong. They were using my new one now.
Great, so they’d received my form then?
Errr, not necessarily.
She couldn’t tell me if they had, but as they were using my new address, they surely must have, I reckoned, somewhat mollified.
Then, just after speaking to her, they responded to the email from several days previous, but also mentioned the fact I’d just been speaking to someone.
By one day to closing date I still heard nothing, so emailed again, telling them of my concerns. No response.
Came the day after closing date I was told, of course, I had failed to renew. I phoned, to be told I could renew. If I filled in another form, got a passport photo, two proofs of identity and address, countersigned by someone of good standing in the community, accompanied by a cheque for lots of money.
Basically, as if I was applying for a passport. I did this within a couple of hours, got it off by tracked mail, and four days later was told they’d now received my first application from way back, and as the closing date was past, I’d now need a renewal.
Lucky I’d done that several days ago then, eh? The same day they told me-by email, no less- that they’d received my renewal and would process it-within ten working days.
I’m still waiting.
All in all, a perfect example on how to get instant digital communications and how, by harnessing it to 19th century British Empire bureaucracy, to manage to achieve a car-crash system that cannot be subverted by any known form of communication to achieve anything remotely relevant within a reasonable timescale.
I’m sure it makes sense to someone there, presumably in a dark suit sitting in a grey office full of manila envelopes, all waiting to be opened.
I’m betting they include one from a Mr. Gordon in Khartoum saying “send help quickly”.
Eamonn Keyes is a regular contributor to The Orkney News.
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