Saturday, November 27, 2010

Too Many Messages

There is TMI (Too Much Information) and then there is TMM (Too Many Messages). TMI is when someone shares with you a personal detail about themselves that you wish they hadn’t. TMM is when you have too many open channels on which messages are sent to you and you just can’t manage them all.

Have you noticed that messages do not get answered as swiftly as they used to --- if at all. Why are we experiencing more and more lost emails, unanswered voice mail, unread text messages? In an age of constant contact --- our connection often seems completely unreliable. How many times have you asked (or been asked) in an exasperated tone, “Did you get my message?!!”

We know that digital messages can destroy relationships and wreck careers. It seems they can also do a fair amount of damage when they are not retrieved. Even a nonresponse has the ability to conjure up devastating scenarios in our heads that may have no basis in fact whatsoever.

Did I send the message to the wrong person? Is she mad at me? Was it something I said? Did they find my message disturbing? Have I offended him?

It happens, messages slip through the cracks. I have 3 email addresses, 3 different voice mail accounts, and add on that text messages. This is probably pretty average these days. I don’t check everything every day and miss a message here and there and I have been especially negligent with my FaceBook and Twitter accounts. I apologize.

Obviously, we all need to learn to manage our messages more efficiently. In this environment it is no wonder people are not getting back to us. The lack of response to your message may not be personal at all – it’s probably just TMM.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

An Error Has Occured

On Tuesday morning, Election Day 2010, I walked the short block to my polling place to vote. I did not feel any of the nervous anticipation I had in the past and thought about writing a blog post titled,"I Love to Vote!" Unfortunately, my exuberance did not last as I attempted to place my vote using a very uncooperative BMD (Ballot Marking Device).

I guess my false sense of comfort in the accessible voting experience was built over the 3 previous elections in which I voted privately and independently using the BMD with minimal fanfare. In fact I was feeling rather smug about my “easy” method of voting since the City of New York switched to a system of paper ballots that have such tiny font size everyone is having trouble reading them.

When all goes well I sit at the BMD, plug in my earphones, choose my language, and push a button to adjust the sound. I listen to the choices for each contest, make my selections, and advance through contests and candidates, and press the selection button to cast my vote. Once I have voted all contests the BMD gives me the option to review my selections and mark the paper ballot that is inserted into the BMD.

Everyone else is standing at a funny little desk in bad light straining to mark their ballot with a pen.

This time things did not go quite so smoothly. Carmen the poll worker who bravely volunteered to help me get started had a bit of trouble figuring out where to insert the paper ballot. We were not off to a great start. Carmen leaned toward me and in a soft voice, as if she was giving me an inside tip, she said, “You know the best way to do this is just to mark the ballot with a pen.” I smiled and told her that if I were able to see the ballot I would not be putting her through this.

She now also needed assistance and she called for help from a colleague. Two heads are definitely better than one and together they found the flap that was hiding the slot to feed in the paper ballot.

With ballot inserted I plugged in earphones and started to proceed with my voting and waved to Carmen that I could take it from here. Once I got going it all came back and I was able to advance through all contests and place my votes in a relatively short period. After reviewing my choices I pressed the selection button one more time to mark my ballot. That is when I was stopped cold with a message from my BMD that said “An error has occurred. Contact your election official.”

Carmen and company came back and heavy consternation ensued, not quite sure even what the error message was trying to tell them. They pulled out the BMD instruction guide and decided to do what we all do when we don’t know what else to do with a temperamental computer --- shut down and reboot.

Carmen made another suggestion, “Do you think you could use the magnifier?” She was referring to a sheet of plastic, a weak magnifier, tethered to the “booth” where voters marked their ballot by hand. I answered, “Not unless it magnifies 10 times.”

I may have given up and forfeited right about here, were it not for the fact that it had been instilled in me, by both my parents, that you must exercise your right to vote. And, I could not get their voices out of my head.

We all persevered. The shut down and reboot took an extraordinarily long time and it felt as if the BMD was testing my resolve.

The next attempt was abruptly ended by another message from the BMD, it said, “The ballot you have inserted has already been marked.” Carmen wanted to argue with the machine, but I asked her please to just give me a new unmarked ballot. She agreed.

Another few minutes passed as they unregistered my corrupted ballot and reassigned a fresh one. I wondered if I was going to be there all morning.

The third try was the charm. I was back in the voting business, this time racing through the selecting and marking process. I pulled the marked ballot out of the BMD and held my breath as I approached the scanner. I hoped for the best and fed the ballot smoothly into the scanner and saw the American flag appear signaling my vote had been counted successfully!

I felt victorious and raised both hands in the air. I high fived Carmen and several of her colleagues and I headed for the door --- looking as if I had just won a contest myself!

Read my comment on the Wall Street Journal about the new voting system: