Thursday, December 23, 2004

A Truly Stray Thought

I've been sucked into signing up for a bunch of online sweepstakes. It started very simply with one little sweepstake that ended on Nov 30th and has blossomed into a 20-minute obsession each morning. I can't wait for the holiday season to end and half of them at least to go away. Or at least that's what I tell myself. We'll have to see where I am with this in March to know for sure.

However, this obsession is not why I'm writing. It certainly isn't in keeping with the meaning behind this blog to blather on about how I can waste time with the best of them. So, while you're wonder what on Earth I'm doing and if I've been hitting the eggnog early this year, let me put your mind at ease. I had a stray thought that might prove interesting as I went through my technique.

I copy my email so I don't have to type this long string with every different sweepstake, but I realized my street address is much more cumbersome. So why don't I copy my street address instead of my email, I asked myself? I don't know if you'll agree, but I found the answer fascinating.

The email address is interpreted by a computer. If I type even one letter wrong, transpose two characters as I have a habit of doing, I am doomed. There is no way the communication will ever find me. But, if I transpose two numbers, write circle as cirlce or do some other strange twist on my address (as long as the zip code is right because it's interpreted by a computer of course), I can usually trust that my mail carrier will figure it out and the message will still arrive safely, or a helpful neighbor will chuck it back out for another try at least.

Now I'm not usually the computer phobic type. If anything, I'm the complete opposite, but this moment of clarity gave me a connection to the doomsayers who condemn computers as the coming of the end. How will I manage without knowing a human hand will gently massage my errors into something still usable? I've developed tons of coping mechanisms. Yes, I use both grammar and spell check. I copy critical information from the one instance I know is correct to avoid introducing error. I try to avoid typing in long strings of numbers if I can help it. (You should see me trying to install an OS!) And I guess that's my answer. Without humans to interpret and work around human error, those of us who aren't perfect (most, if not all of humanity) will learn to cope or will slip through the cracks, going into the oblivion of misfiled emails and accidentally deleted or moved files.

And all this from filling out sweepstakes :).

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Remember the canary post? I'm chalking it up to that. But seriously, you've neatly captured the essence of my recent job and why it's important. Machines can't figure out what comes naturally to people. The messages the military composes have to make sense to machines and humans--therefore, so far, they do neither very well.

Jean

Margaret said...

Yipes. So that's the answer then. Hire translators between humanity and machinery. As all other jobs vanish into mechanical solutions, a new crop of opportunities take their place? Umm, somehow that sounds very much like human efficiency ;).