User Input

User Input: Mindless Automatons

Techie and I were discussing our general frustrations last night, as we often do, and it struck me how many of our various annoyances came down to being caused by the very same issues. Specifically, over the course of a couple different rants, the root cause for each was the same: people running on autopilot.

Techie was on the phone with the technical support department for a piece of equipment that has failed in his vast underground complex; even though he called them up and told them what the problem was in lengthy technical terms that caused my eyes to glaze over, something involving trilithium and positrons I think, they still insisted on starting at the beginning of their tech support script. “Good day sir, I hope you are having a wonderful time. Have you checked to ensure your device is plugged into the wall, and that there is power supplied to the socket? Excellent. Have you checked to ensure the power switch is in the ‘ON’ position, as indicated by the small green light?”

My rant, similarly, involved people simply running on autopilot. I had the same person very nearly drive directly into me three times on the drive home last night. I knew exactly why it was happening; they had a GPS device stuck to their windshield, and as soon as the screen would light up with a sign saying, “LEFT TURN AHEAD” they’d mindlessly swerve into the lane to their left. No shoulder check, not a glance, not a signal, just follow the computer’s instructions. Three times they did this, three times they were jolted awake by a blast from my horn. Brain over, insert coin.

What’s the worst case of human drone syndrome, or mindless automaton disorder, you’ve personally experienced?

[Image source: DeviantArt]

  • I am currently on a project for NASA a large government agency. Originally it was a design-build project where we would be responsible for both. At some point, NASA this large government agency thought they could do a better job of the construction. So, now they have a contractor on board to start building the system we designed. This week we have received 5 requests for information (RFI) from the contractor to NASA the large government agency asking about stuff that is on the drawings we supplied and reviewed on multiple occasions with NASA the large government agency or was not in our scope. The government engineer is just passing these on to us without making any attempt to answer them himself. Whats worse, there are aspects of the design that NASA the large government agency took on themselves, yet they are forwarding us RFIs related to these aspects. All 5 RFIs have been returned with either some variant of RTFD (read the f****** drawings) or NIC (not in contract). Of course, per the terms of our contract, we are charging NASA the large government agency for the time it takes us to answer these questions. Additionally, NASA the large government agency is paying their people to manage these RFIs.

    Your tax dollars at work.

    • gearz1

      That is a sad waste,who better to guide the build than the draftsman and the engineer. What is even sadder is how often we read of this. Politics and Payoffs have become a way of life.

      • CaptianNemo2001

        Wow put the guy who did and understood the engineering in-charge of the guys who are building it… That's so 1870's-1930's.

        Yah well everyone now has to have consultants and outside people who also have their own group of people. And each group has lawyers and on and on and on.

        If only they did put the guy who designed it in-charge. Alas not everyone can design, draft, and manage people to "make it so". It take's a rare and special person for that.

      • This is very common with government jobs. There are actual rules about the company doing the design not being allowed to do the construction with some exceptions. It's supposed to help prevent fraud, but all it does is waste a lot of time and money while the construction firm figures out what the designer was intending. I have another project that is still lingering out there because the construction firm didn't know what they were doing and have messed up a system, but have the government (who keeps changing personnel) convinced that it's a design issue and not a construction/commissioning issue.

    • So the answer is obviously to give the government more money.

      • gearz1

        You will not give,it will be taken.

    • jeepjeff

      First: That's awful, and reminds me of why I like working at a start up. I get to just do, and there isn't much stupid floating around.

      Second: Point of style. I like to expand the RTFD family of acronyms (using the current example) as: "Read the Drawings". Usually they get it. Sometimes, sometimes, you're lucky and you get someone dense, pre-coffee, didn't get enough sleep the previous night, &c., &c. They ask "What's the 'F' stand for?"

      At which point, I put on my best "You don't really expect me to answer that" look and stare at them until they say, "Oh", normally takes 2-5 seconds.

  • OA5599

    I bought a computer accessory priced at $65 over a lower-priced competitor's model because this one was supposed to have a $40 rebate. I waited the 6 to 8 weeks and never got the check.

    I called the company's 800 number (this was in the days when online customer service was very rare, even for tech companies).

    "Sorry, all operators are busy and hold queues are full" click.

    I tried during off hours.

    "Sorry, our office is closed. Please call back between 8 am and 5 pm Pacific time" click.

    I tried at 7:59 am Pacific time.
    "Sorry, our office is closed. Please call back between 8 am and 5 pm Pacific time" click. [redial] "Sorry, all operators are busy and hold queues are full" click.

    I called 10-20 times a day for a month before giving up. I don't think I've ever bought a computer product with rebate pricing since then.

  • Number_Six

    I'm guilty of it myself this week. I've been dealing with a rash of issues that have been really same-same and responding to them with a rote script and series of actions. When a client reported an issue that was similar but not exactly the same, I didn't RTFeMail and responded automatically. Poor guy was slightly pissed and I was really annoyed at myself for falling into that trap.

    <img src="http://rlv.zcache.com/its_a_trap_poster-r4eda1e3b73104102b54b9f56d1787505_w2y_400.jpg"&gt;

  • Recurveman

    Working in a downtown environment i see a lot of people walking around. I actually refer to a large portion of the people walking around down town as "ipod auto-pilots" These are the people that you see so absorbed into their texting conversation or what ever else they are doing, that they become totally oblivious as to the world around them. However this does not slow them down from meandering down the side walk. J-walking into the road and almost getting hit by cars and being totally oblivious to it Usually never even looking up to acknowledge death staring them in the face. Walking into trees and then scowling at the tree for getting in their way, and my favorite, walking across a cross walk without looking and getting hit by a car. (All of these scenarios i have seen within the past year)

    • No big deal. If you're too absorbed in your texting or Plants vs. Zombies game that you walk out in front of a car and get hit or fall into an open manhole (after you walk right past all the barricade), you can sue!
      http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/07/girl-falls

      • The Professor

        That's evolution in action, and it's generally a good thing. Also known as "mucking out the shallow end of the gene pool".

        • CaptianNemo2001

          Not when we hinder evolution with medicine and various other methods that were not available 100 odd years ago.

          Poor Darwin is rolling over in his grave.

  • Recurveman

    Point in case
    [youtube jPW8xmI4w6U http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPW8xmI4w6U youtube]

  • About 7 out of 10 times people will ignore the KEEP MOVING signs for a right turn on an exit ramp.

    I'm quick on the horn for these idiots.

    • I wanted to honk my horn at myself the other day because I totally stopped at an intersection that had no stop sign, and at which I had profusely used my horn on other idiots that stop there. I'm starting to drive like these people! Help!

      • CaptianNemo2001

        Get a TAXI

  • WASHINGTON — Two pilots who overshot their destination by 150 miles (240 kilometers) before turning back should have had many warnings as they approached and passed Minneapolis: cockpit displays, controllers trying to reach them, the city lights twinkling below.

    The crew told authorities they were distracted during a heated discussion over airline policy, the Federal Aviation Administration said. But federal officials are investigating whether pilot fatigue might be to blame.

    Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/oct/23/p
    Follow us: @washtimes on Twitter

    • The Professor

      And people wonder why I don't fly…

      • Vairship

        You're heavier than air, and don't have any wings?

  • skitter

    I find that bizarre requests, or even the promise of a bizarre request is usually enough to derail the automatic pilot. Failing that, try the long-story method.

    Outcomplicate the bureaucracy.

    • I find stupid answers to stupid questions works really well. My wife is notorious for not listening to me and then asking me the same question I just answered, before she asked me. For example, I will tell here something I am about to do, less than 1 minute later she will ask "What are you doing?" I've just started making up nonsense. Sometimes she notices and doesn't appreciate it.

  • The bored silly people at the supermarket checkout, with the bar code scanner. I once went up with a soda and a candy bar; the girl bleeped them through and said, "$18.56" or some such ridiculous number. I waited for her to realize her mistake for a second before asking, "Really? Sounds a bit steep, doesn't it?" She had charged me for a 12-pack of soda and a candy bar.

    Even better, the girl at the yuppie natural foods store out in the wealthy suburbs ran everything through, told me my total, and then stared over her cash register at something while I stood there with a $20 bill in my hand. Eventually she looked over at me, then down at the cash, and literally jumped and scrambled a bit to try to remember how to enter a cash sale.

    At some computer supply place the cashier rings me up, and I'm there with my $20 bill again, and they're asking me for my name and phone number. "I'm paying cash, what do you need my name and phone number for? That's for credit." They were having none of it, no sale could be entered into the computer without a name and phone number. I gave my name as Tex Rabinowitz (actually a Maryland Roots Rock wingnut) and whatever string of numbers came to mind.

    Aren't you glad computers came about? To make all of our lives so much easier?

    <img src="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_oRrOZC9jH_c/SDfp5UDHcJI/AAAAAAAABdo/B4hVbkyBqTk/s400/computer.JPG"&gt;

    • jeepjeff

      Ah yes. "Build better idiot proofing, and they'll build a better idiot." That arms race is over. We've built the perfect idiot. It is the computer itself. It does what you tell it to do, no more and no less. And yet, humans revere them as they were a true Oracle of Delphi speaking on behalf of the Gods.

      Of course, we were lost before we ever began: "On two occasions I have been asked,—"Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" In one case a member of the Upper, and in the other a member of the Lower, House put this question. I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question." — Charles Babbage, 1864.

-->