I needed a new phone and in the process changed carriers which means I needed my number ported from the old to the new. A process which normally takes no more than 3 hours and can often be done in minutes took 72 hours over four days, from Sunday afternoon until Wednesday 3pm. I dealt with several people at the store and each were trying to do their job, each was trying to deal with a situation they couldn’t understand along with a customer who kept asking where was the problem and pressuring them to resolve it. Each day brought a new crop of people, each with their own way of dealing with the issue. But none seemed aware of the huge background of technical inputs, processes and technicalities involved. They said first they didn’t have my correct zip code, when they did, but as I discovered it was probably entered incorrectly. Then they said there was 2 port requests, while the original carrier said there was not. At a loss for what was causing the delays they blamed the original carrier meaning it was out of their hands, they could do nothing. The point of all this is that whether with phones, or so many other daily necessities, cable, streaming, utilities, banking, all involve a technical backdrop which may be becoming too complex, certainly too complicated for the average person or the average worker. The people I dealt with were good with people, but unaware of potential issues behind the parameters of their jobs, not out of ineptitude or laziness, and I am not sure due to poor and inadequate training. They were knowledgeable within the confines of their very small sphere.
It’s easy to berate the tech support people we speak to on the phone, to get angry at those who are helping us when they give what looks like wrong answers, it’s easy to be angry at not being helped and be frustrated by the consequences, but the problem, I believe, is not the workers but the immensity of the technological grid. Each worker is tasked with the equivalent of a piece of the puzzle, and they do what they are to do, but there seems to be few who can see the whole picture. And as the picture continues to get bigger and bigger, it becomes an issue of concern. It is a concern that includes a lot more than the smooth functioning of our individual lives, but the functioning of a nation, its national security and relations with its allies. Several international issues relying on technology and its increasing ability to link, connect, compute, track… reveal the inherent complexities. Human trafficking is one where the technology can help but also add to the difficulties. It all points to the old issue inherent in the phrase too big to fail. Increasingly we need to keep asking when is big too big for our own good?
The pandemic brought lockdown. The lockdown brought a different soundscape. In cities throughout the world regular sounds are absent and in some like San Francisco, one can hear birds. Stuart Fowkes a UK based artist has been mapping the sounds of cities since 2014. He’s trying to map sounds all over the world and noticed that one thing lockdown brought out were sounds like church bells which were no longer lost in other city sounds. They could now be more noticed. To Fowkes so many sounds have been lost to noise pollution. In fact the World Health Organization thinks of noise pollution as an environmental stressor and a public health risk. On an everyday level we may not be aware of how sounds affect us, but they do. The vibrations hit our senses as well as our bodies, and usually result in a reaction from not only our physical bodies, but also our emotional ones. Sound pollution is so much part of urban life that we forget to notice its impact. Traffic of course, delivery trucks, ambulances, other sirens, revving motors, blaring music.. each bearable by themselves perhaps, but when added to the others affect us in ways we forget to recognize much less acknowledge. It’s not hard to see that sound pollution does stress us and that stress on an ongoing basis can be a health risk. Fowkes now has more than 4000 recordings of sounds from 100 countries, and was planning to issue a report last March. When Covid 19 hit he began recording those sounds, or their absence, and incorporated those recordings into The Future Cities Project so that we will not only know what cities sounded like before the virus, but also now. Whatever Fowkes’ reasons for undertaking that project, how sound affects us is something we ought to think about. Some sounds can make us relax, and some interfere with what we feel and even more with our thought processes. And for those of us who are also sensitive to what is transcendent, being aware of sounds and their effects upon us is certainly a must.
Civvl is a startup for evictions. As a result of Covid many are behind on their rent and despite eviction moratoriums, some landlords are opting to evict their tenants, or may in future when the moratoriums are lifted. Violating these moratoriums can result in jail time and fines. When asked how they kept these evictions legal, Civvl did not answer. Meanwhile some property owners avail themselves of the option to call on a team of gig workers as process servers and eviction agents to evict their tenants, including people who will move out furniture. They’re called the Uber of evictions. And Civvl is not the only one, OnQuall does something similar. They say that at a time of high unemployment they provide jobs, even if it’s a gig. One such worker who needed the money to pay his own rent was seen crying as he moved out furniture of someone being thus evicted. Legally people are free to engage in such businesses, and should be. But if you believe as I do that a society needs to provide a moral compass, needs to provide a framework for more harmlessness, then like me you will have difficulty with these kind of businesses, and even more when these businesses look to be skirting the law. Making money out of someone’s suffering is wrong. Enabling someone to hurt another is wrong. Yes, landlords have the right to their rents, but they are not without remedies. They can, for example, through their property owners groups lobby local state and federal government for subsidies or other kinds of aids. In all cases, less rent will mean less income and will therefore be reflected in the amount of income tax they will have to pay. Few are the landlords who will be homeless as a result, which is not the case for some of those evicted. Of course landlords do have the option in some instances to simply do a good deed.
Digital ads on billboard that you may encounter as you drive can now spy on those who look at them. It’s not called this, it’s referred to as a radar, but spying is in essence what it is. It has to do with the technology that tracks your phone. You are driving and you look at an ad, and they know much about you through the data they collect. I don’t understand all of it, so I can’t tell you how they do that, but it is now possible. It is based and focused on the signals which are emitted from our devices, or I suppose whatever electronic systems such as GPS are in our cars. The problem, and to me and certain privacy advocates it certainly is a problem, is what is being done with the data that is collected. It’s all sort of new, and it’s all opaque. And I am not sure that time will necessarily add to transparency. Clear Channel Outdoor has been using this technology in the US including Los Angeles for the last four years, and is now ready to use it in Europe. What I thought was important was that the article describing its US usage added the word, quietly when describing their practices. The problem is that private companies, the names of which are not all known, are using the information for their own profits and purposes. The technology is the same as that used in surveillance and privacy experts are concerned that a commercial surveillance network is being built and given that so many companies are involved, it makes the practice even scarier. Of course Clear Channel says this is to help advertisers better understand consumer behavior and advertising campaign effectiveness.
Whatever reasons all the business concerns may give, it
is difficult to see how advertising that utilizes surveillance technology can
be benign to consumers. I don’t know if consumers can manage to stop the
practice, but I know that it is something we need to know more about.