Pen, paper, and the human mind vs computers

Have you ever felt completely helpless to do anything because of a computer program?

I’m old enough to remember well the days when everything was done with a combination of paper and ink and the human mind. Back then people had to count out change, the register didn’t tell you what you owed. You had to actually do simple math, and count the coins into the customer’s hand, then the bills. Anybody remember that, and wish these kids would realize that if they put the coins in your hand first, they wouldn’t roll off the top of the bills?

I digress. Today I met a computer program that automatically adds late charges if your rent doesn’t get paid on time. I am a fiend for paying everything on time, or early. I pay my rent online and for some reason this month it didn’t go through. Maybe I didn’t push that last button, or maybe there was a glitch, but it didn’t take, and I got a call from a young woman in the apartment office. I was very chagrined and paid immediately. The girl who called me said there were late charges that would be added. Are you kidding? I got on my high horse immediately. Reminded her that  I had lived here a year and a half and have never been late, and they needed to be removed. It’s a computer thing, she said. I asked to speak to the manager.

I told her what happened, and she was very nice, but said there was nothing she could do about it. The computer just adds the charges. I suggested that wasn’t good publicity, and she said it was like that everywhere. Apologetically repeated that she couldn’t do anything about it. I don’t believe that there’s no way to remove the charges, and am not through with this battle. But I’m going back to the old way, handing them a check and getting a receipt.

People aren’t individuals anymore. We are numbers, or cases. And computers magnify this. In the old days, it was much easier to right the wrongs of unfair late charges, because it was a matter of pen and paper and human wisdom and compassion.