S1:E10 Analog People versus Digital People

05 AUG 2020

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Script

Friends, I took a victory lap last evening that ended in tears. My tears, friend’s tears, and a gut wrenching shame of being human. People who can make technology sing and dance receive more in COVID recovery funds than those who struggle with tech.

The analog versus digital divide expands and limits our ability to help those with the greatest need.

We are using 2.2 Trillion U.S. dollars to aid in the recovery of our people – 328 million people. Primarily we are distributing these funds as grants, and occasionally loans. Each federal agency develops their rules to serve their perceived constituency.

And we have a suite of software that manages that process smoothly. Our tools strive to prevent fraud, and … and…

And … completely isolate the people most in need.

In fact, I can’t help those in need. And, so I got angry and cried. 

Patty

A colleague, a young programmer on our team, found an applicant’s name that they just fell in love with. When designing a complicated report, it is nice to find some data that works and that will stress a report. And that is fun to play with.

This business name is nice and long. I see this sample report of ours then recognize my neighbor Patty. She and her husband bade my husband welcome during my year in Iraq with meals and company. She made us welcome when I returned to New England after decades away.

There is her company name in our report. I wrap my day submitting documents to HUD, grab a mask to go calling downing the road. Patty’s house and B&B are neat and quiet.

I felt social and we worked hard on that grant program. She’d seen our training videos. She’d worked in our software. Never before has this happened that a near neighbor serendipitously used anything I ever built.

After supper, I called just to hear how good our videos were and what it was like to work in our software. Instead, Patty painted a fresh picture of the world for me.

Patty children are my age and older, so computer technology and the internet arrived later in her career as an innkeeper. Only a few years ago, she moved from dial-up to DSL.

She like most of the rural people here had no access to high speed internet.

100% of what was expected of Patty required technology, skills, and documentation that so many Americans just do not have instant access to.

What is required of this grant? A couple of years of tax returns; financial income statement; on-line forms; cost estimates for projects; and a DUNS number from Dun and Bradstreet.

I missed the complexity. Normal people just don’t keep tax returns and financial data scanned as PDF on sleek modern computers with unlimited capacity.

When a bank, or a government agency says: we need two years of tax returns that could result in a day’s work for someone – and costs too.

Finding them can be a challenge. Then how do you get them scanned neatly and cleanly? Patty’s are 3 inches (8mm) thick. Staples, odd-sized documents, funny shaped receipts all tangled in the jumble.

Me, I have 3 monitors – you can see them behind me. Look a flat-bed scanner with a document feeder. Oh, and I have a license to every cool product needed. That’s not a big deal to me.

Scanning a pile of taxes is a big deal for a LOT of people

Family income statement that matches the rest of the financial information with lovely warning about mistakes resulting in persecution (er prosecution). And that family income statement, that is a HUD document to encourage people to inform Uncle SAM about one’s skin color in nice neat check boxes.

In the midst of this effort, please go to a private enterprise to register your business on a global database – just so the government can confirm you is you.

The barriers exceeded ability, energy, capacity, and even the value of the grant. Get this schtuff together then you may or may not get money.

On the phone with Patty, I hear the human cost. We’ve had no guests this year which means no income. I don’t need money for projects to protect against COVID or protect our guests, we just need to pay bills.

We can’t survive.

And there it is: even with this HUD grant, they can’t survive. Of course, I offer help. I’ll scan documents and help get through everything.

Frustration and anger and tears well in her throat and voice.

Ann

And that is when friend Ann calls from Down the Cape. A potter, and cherished friend, I start my visit with her at the same point where I rung off with Patty. Oh dear… Ann won’t look for any government funds.

They’ll never help; they’ll only hurt; and I don’t have what it takes to get through all of that.

She’s living in her family’s house that survived the 1939 hurricane – 200 meters in any direction is water – and science – and wealth – and …

And people, we’ve drawn a line.

The people who will survive this pandemic and economic crisis will share a set of skills – the ability to manage information digitally and via the internet.

No scanner, no tax returns, no ability to gracefully fly through a web-based form and you’re sinking quickly. No lifeboat for you.

It isn’t even a fight. There is no nobility or generosity really. No string band woefully playing while women and children escape.

I crank up on-line music and thrive in this environment. I don’t need a lifeboat, I’ll just 3-D print my own.

And during the week, my staff wrestled with the challenges of one human being. He asked for help repeatedly – in all caps – with exclamation marks.

On Tuesday, we learned our software does not work well on a Windows 7 computer with an AOL browser. With a more modern browser, improvements were made. The pleas for help continued.

Do we stop to help one human being?

Do we pull one more into the lifeboat?

Or do we say: if we extend this kind of help to one, then we must do it for all.

It is a competition – the analogues verse the digitals.

That’s the third telling of the same story in five days – all here in my native New England. Greatest universities in the world are located nearby.

The leading contender for COVID Vaccine has a modern office block in the middle of that very neighborhood where Haitian refugees lived in the mid-1980s in Cambridge Mass.

My husband and I refinanced our house this week. It took about three days. The bank wanted tax returns, income statements, property tax bills, retirement statements from the husband, essentially the same pile o’ stuff that HUD and others want when you apply for a COVID grant.

When Bill (the husband) went the bank’s site, he started the application leaving my name off — oops. Then on another click, he landed on some scammer-site that made his computer wail like an alarm.

It wanted money and clicks to get free. With my magic, that computer became fine in 30 minutes and I took over the process. Husband role exists to fetch paper documents. I took over the rest.

Applying for a new mortgage took 5 rounds of document discovery. In each case, I was able to provide them within an hour – twice calling our accounting firm for support. We flew through that process and we locked in at a mortgage rate that is shamefully low. I got the big reward! I got scored. I win. Yay for me.

That’s not the point… right?

Conclusion

Only my peers with technology and information management could have done that. It is we who got the PPP grants and credit lines from banks and keep getting benefits.

Yet, my rather analogue husband got caught by a scammer and put his computer at complete risk.

The line between digital and analog runs right down the middle of our 25-year marriage.

Our defense against an analogue disaster (COVID) is purely digital.

Apparently, the analogues will not be helped unless we digitals do something better than we are doing.

We’ve closed the doors to our government offices. Wanna talk? Want help? Scan it as a PDF and fill out this form.

We suck.