Throw Away the App

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I’ve been crossing the border into Canada for 20 years. Back then, we had paper declaration forms we’d fill out. Remember those?

Now instead of the paper declarations, there are beautiful, sleek machines at the airport. And there’s an app. You can’t enter Canada without the app. But the app and the machine didn’t make the process of entering the country faster or easier. To the contrary. Yesterday, I arrived in a 40% empty airplane from Chicago and waited in a line the likes of which I hadn’t seen in 20 years. It took 1 hour 45 minutes to cross the border. I’m a citizen, I had all the paperwork, the vaccine passport, the negative COVID test. And yet it took this insane amount of time. In 1998, it had taken less than half this time actually to go through the immigration process at that border. Surely, it shouldn’t be easier to immigrate than come home as a citizen.

I’m all for technology making things easier. But it often doesn’t. Here it clearly did not because I’m telling you, this is the first time in two decades that I’ve seen anything similar at this border control. You go through all these apps and machines but at the end of the line, you still end up having the exact same conversation with the exact same tired border officer that you always did. All I’m suggesting is that we throw away the technology and go straight to the conversation.

And by the way, at that same airport, the process of crossing the border back to the US isn’t encumbered by apps and machines, and it goes in a flash. Let’s keep that in mind before some enterprising fellow gets a contract to build some stupid app that will create massive delays and make everybody’s lives harder.

11 thoughts on “Throw Away the App

  1. A million times yes.

    There are so many things that technology initially made easier, that have since become more difficult because of the technology. SO MANY.

    When I rented my first house in 1999, I looked at the classified ads in the newspaper, made some phone calls, went down to the rental company and filled out a form, showed them my driver’s license, and wrote them a check, and they handed me the keys and a rental contract. Hey presto!

    When we rented a house last year, it was a total nightmare. The process is all online now. So instead of calling a number and talking to an actual person, you fill out an electronic form that’s ten times more tedious and invasive than the IRS’s 1040, full of weird little bugs where you have to attest to something factually untrue just to get to the next page, and you have to do all of this, and pay them fifty bucks just to look at the house. Not to rent it. To qualify for renting, you also have to let them pull your credit report and conduct a criminal background check.

    Because technology.

    My local Walmart, when I go grocery shopping, never has more than two actual cashiers working at a time. They have a lot of automated self-check-outs. Except there’s a lot of stuff you can’t buy in the self-check-out, and there’s no handy list you can consult to find out which items will trigger the alert, cause your self-checkout-station to freeze up until the beleaguered checkout-babysitter-employee comes and swipes their card to rescue you from checkout purgatory. Things I have discovered will trigger checkout shutdown: wine, beer, spraypaint, glucose test strips, some electronics (not all. Which ones? Who knows?). Also, there’s some crappy security AI involved where if the camera “sees” you scanning stuff with one hand while you hold your wallet in the other hand, it will glitch out on every third item, no matter what the item is. It takes an eternity to get through the self-checkout with a full load of groceries.

    So in 1999 I could pick up a tub of ice cream, pay for it, take it home in the car, and put it in the freezer, and have it mostly intact. These days… I can do it, but only at the Piggly Wiggly, which still has cashiers. I gladly pay more for it.

    This is what I think of, when people go on about whatever shiny-new-tech-that’s-making-our-lives-better of the month. I groan inside. It is like that joke:

    Q: What are the two most dreaded words in the English language?
    A: Windows update.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I must be lucky, because the self-checkouts at the places where I shop all work fine. I know a lot of people hate self-checkouts, but for people like me, who suffer from both OCD and social anxiety, they are a blessing. I don’t have to interact with other people, and I can bag my groceries the way I like them bagged, instead of having it done by some incompetent schmuck who puts the frozen stuff into six different bags with non-frozen stuff and puts half my purchases into the cart unbagged and doesn’t even ask if I prefer paper or plastic (and acts affronted if I express an opinion on the matter). I suppose I’m probably depriving some poor halfwit of a minimum-wage job, but if I want the job done right, I have to do it myself.


      1. This is how I felt about self checkouts when they first happened. They actually worked better then, when they were mostly honor-system, counting on people not to be shoplifting, etc. After the anti-shoplifting AI got added, it became almost impossible to use them. Perhaps your local shopping outlet hasn’t updated theirs. Count your blessings.

        Also, the golden moment when they worked well was before I had to buy any kind of diabetic testing supplies. What triggers the alert is that for some people, some medical supplies are covered by medicare or insurance, and there’s a process for that at the register(possibly in the pharmacy), that has to be done by an actual person in order to bill to insurance. But there’s no way to tell the self-checkout “yeah I know and I’m paying cash for it anyway”. It’s not listening. But again: there’s no list. No way to know about it until you get to the checkout and try to buy the thing. I think the thing with electronics is, if the store offers any kind of warranty with it, that has to be done by a cashier. So even if you don’t want a warranty on it, if you try to take it through the self-checkout, it’ll glitch out the machine and then you have to be rescued by the checkout babysitter. On a busy day this can take several minutes each time it glitches out.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. “rescued by the checkout babysitter … can take several minutes each time it glitches out”

          The other day I had to get authorization for something at the store I usually go to and the employee didn’t want to and it took me a moment to realize why. Basically I didn’t have to wait for the authorization to keep scanning items – she wanted to wait to the end in case there were other problems so she could do them all at once, which makes sense when I think about it. But if it stops at each and every thing that needs authorization… yikes.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Sometimes the machine stops for no reason anybody can discern, and then we stare at it in mute confusion for a while. It’s like a weird ritual of the kind practiced by primitive tribes.

            Liked by 1 person

        2. Ugh, what a drag. Maybe the reason I haven’t had any problems (yet) is that I rarely buy alcohol or electronics or medical supplies. I understand that poppy seeds can trigger a checkout glitch, but I haven’t bought them for ages. Ditto Sudafed, which I haven’t needed in decades, thank heaven.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. On Thursday I glitched on a package of chicken thighs. The problem was of such magnitude that I ended up leaving without the chicken thighs. It adds to the chaotic nature of existence if you never know what will create drama.

            Liked by 2 people

    2. One thing I absolutely detest in this respect is how many doctors these days don’t look at the patient but instead talk to the screen. I recently visited a doctor who didn’t look at me at all. It was so weird. She just stared at the screen and talked to it the whole time. Obviously, she misdiagnosed me at the end because she never saw me. I’m not going back.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I avoid doctors for this reason. I can’t afford to pay cash for a first appointment a dozen times until I find a doc I can work with.

        I’ve been to emergency walk-in clinics maybe three times in the last ten years: I only do it when I already know what the problem is, I already know what I need to treat the problem, and I can show up, pay them, and get exactly what I need without them having to do any actual doctoring. Like, I go in, I tell them I have swimmers ear and I need antibiotic ear drops, they spend ten seconds looking in my ear, agree with my assessment, and I walk out with the scrip for the ear drops.

        That is the only level on which I am willing to deal with doctors these days. Heaven help me if I ever have a serious medical problem I can’t work out for myself.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. I have started pointing this out to my kids when it happens and reminding them that people are still smarter than machines. Not faster at making calculations and storing large quantities of information but able to assess and manipulate edge cases in a way that the checkout system either is not or has not been designed to do.
      We’re not anti tech–my husband is a techie and I see at least one of the kids heading that direction too but it is good for them to realize the limitations and remember that people are irreplaceable in the end.


  2. In the US, government contracts tend to go to the military. This has the advantage of not causing inconvenience for the citizens.


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