Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Digital, digital !

There is this big campaign happening currently where the key word is Digital. And it worries me. Because "digits" means fingers , and fingers belong to humans.

Hundreds of moons ago, I used to work  in  field which was politely called Data Processing.

I would talk to clients, study systems, design systems , program them in whatever language was popular then,  test them, prepare instruction manuals, and one fine day, the system went into production with live actual data.  It was a world of punched cards,  readers, voluminous paper outputs, and stringent data checks with lots of man-machine interactions.

What came out of all this, was "information" , regarding, say, inventories, funds, personnel, etc etc, which presumably was looked at by the managers.

Then PC's arrived, and "data" suddenly became "information", or at least pretended to be. Something appearing on a screen gave it a lot of sanctity, like the Gandhi cap being worn by folks for a similar effect.

Data Processing suddenly became Information Technology.  The sad part , was , that in many cases, humans at managerial levels could not keep up with the speed of Intel Inside, erroneous data migrated through the system like folks coming daily into Mumbai, and becoming untraceable.

In many cases there was loss of security, ie,  complete uncertainty about who could change what data, officially.   I had personal experience of many such episodes .

There was a time when on the 15th of every month, a large sum (by middle class standards)  would be credited to my account and then debited on the 17th. It was not me doing this or anyone I recognised . This was at a well known nationalised bank. I was intrigued, and someone even told me to go withdraw money on the 16th just to see what would happen. When I asked at the bank, they directed me to their HQ computer room, and asked me to check there. I was told that some data came on a CD from some agency, and it was processed regularly. The HQ man offered to show the CD data, and I ended up telling him the commands to open the file and read, since I knew the software and he didn't.   Back to the bank branch, and after much personal investigation, it turned out that the branch manager had no clue about account codification, and  someone at an extension counter was given the same account code as mine at the regular branch. Instead of correcting this (assuming that they called this a mistake), they found it simpler to credit and debit large sums in my account. This went on for 6 months till I raised a hue and a cry.

Then there was a time when I retired and  it was mandatory to create a pension account. Used to having joint accounts, I was informed that this would be a single named account where the nominee would always be the spouse. This was at India's premier nationalized bank. I wanted the bank to realize that making children your nominee was a more sensible thing, but there was no choice. Then one day, I applied for a new chequebook on that account.  Gone were the days when you got chequebooks free. It came by post, my account was debited with charges, and when I checked , I was aghast to find that the single name printed at the bottom of each check was the spouse's. I slogged for donkeys years, retired, created a pension account in a single name, and the bank still managed to put the wrong name. On visiting the bank, the officer glared at me , and told me they would send me a new chequebook, but I would be charged again for the postage.  He had the right to make stupid mistakes, but no right to waive the charges.

Then there was a Security situation in the place where i used to work, and the spouse still did. Every resident of the campus had family ID cards, mentioning dependents etc. When the status of the spouse temporarily changed  a few years ago, both of us got new id cards. Then they said that the daughter, defined as a dependent for decades on our records , would be given a  "daily entry pass" which would need monthly renewals and signatures at the gates.  I wondered about the "entry" since we already lived inside.   It was only when I raised a hue and cry , insisted on turning in our id cards , demanded daily entry passes for us too, promised to sign in at the gates everyday and approached the section head, that someone saw the problem and solved it.

The problem turned out to be that the right to change data for a person was erroneously granted to security section when it should have been administration (which maintains personal and family  data for a given employee) . As a result,  newly created  designations having to do with specially bestowed honors on an employee , completely confuse  a section which has no clue about it.Sorry to say, the state of affairs still continues.....

It is not just us.  Courier company delivery people make deliberate wrong entries on digital tracking records saying "party unavailable", "residence locked" etc  when you have been at home the whole day.  All this to avoid an inconvenient  delivery. Sort of using the system to beat the system.

I worry about going completely digital.  I worry about  the people who make it their life's mission to devise tricks and shortcuts given a system .

But then there are also those who are sticklers for rules. Even if it means changing a fact of life .  Or should I say , death.

Post my father's passing away, I was involved with applying for the requisite certificates and documents, and was surprised to see a very well organized set of steps everyone had to follow.  You applied at a counter, submitted the required papers, mentioned the number of copies. They cross checked it for details , with the  paperwork from the cremation place , and you returned 2-3 days later to collect the death certificates.

I lived in another city and made a trip just to collect these certificates. When I enquired at the window, I was told that the date of expiry , on the doctors certificate and cremation certificate appeared to differ, and the change could only be done at the Municipal Head Quarters, some distance away , at a section , where only one person had the rights to modify data .  I rushed in an auto, and wandered through some unlabelled dark labyrinths at the Head Quarters, till I reached an office populated with just two people. A boss and an data entry person.  They effected the change in the blink of an eye, I asked to see the modified record on screen, and I rushed back to get my certificate copies before the place closed for lunch.

Digital or not. I was just pleased to see someone somewhere following rules. ....

Omar Khayaam once wrote " The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,......"

Clearly, he was an analogue type. He simply did not know what havoc a  digital tapping finger could bring......

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