Pet peaves are generally petty

My father was an early riser. Generally he would get up at 4:30 in the morning and would get to work quickly. My parents kept a home office and often did bookwork from 5 to 6 am while we were sleeping. There days he went directly to the airport or his shop to complete tasks and plan for the day. Family was a priority and he did close his business for an hour at noon to have dinner together. His shop closed at 5 pm and most days he was home by 6 pm for supper together. It wasn’t uncommon for him to bring a customer, salesman, or other business associate to dinner at noon. My mom got used to setting an extra place on short notice. I can remember many an evening when he would return to the shop to help a customer obtain needed parts or solve a problem for someone who was traveling.

I can also remember him complaining about “banker’s hours” In our town the bank didn’t open until 9 am and it closed promptly at 5 pm. Unlike my father’s business that was always open on Saturdays, the bank never was. Those hours often seemed like an inconvenience to my father. He would want to make a deposit or handle another transaction at the edges of his work day. The problem was that the bank wasn’t open at the beginning or the end of my father’s work hours. As I child, I remember thinking that bankers must be lazy because of the complaints that I heard from my father.

My children have no conception of bankers hours. They expect and employ banking services at their own convenience 24 hours per day. Neither think of going to a bank to transact business. They do most of their business online and, on the rare occasion when they need cash they turn to an automatic teller machine. Computers have practically eliminated any need for them to do their banking directly with a human being.

Of course automation is coming to a lot of other jobs as well. According to the American Trucking Association there are 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the United States. Each driver is allowed to drive up to 11 hours in a 14-hour period providing there is a 10-hour break between those 14 hour periods, effectively meaning they can drive up to 11 hours per day. With two drivers and an appropriate sleeper on the truck, the driving can cover more hours. However, experiments are being conducted with autonomous vehicles. Right now such vehicles are being operated in experimental modes only with professional drivers in the cab following the existing hours of service rules. Most experts agree that once the safety of computer-driven trucks is established we will see driverless trucks transporting goods. The computer will not have hours of service rules and except for time to fuel, unload and load the trucks will be running around the clock.

There is enough automation that we have grown to expect services to be available whenever we want to use them. We shop online at all hours of the day and night. When I am planning a trip, I can purchase tickets and make reservations whenever I want to do so. I can go to the post office web site and have my mail held without needing to observe any office hours. I can also purchase and print US postage from any computer equipped with a printer at any hour of the day or night.

As a result of all of this, I’ve grown to expect that kind of service from lots of different businesses.

Of course it doesn’t always work.

We divided our vacation into three blocks of time this year. Each time I went to our newspaper’s web site to place a vacation hold on the delivery of the print edition of the newspaper. Each time I got the same result. I find the appropriate web page, log on, fill out a form with all of the necessary information (although it isn’t clear why a telephone number is required information for an online request), select the dates I want delivery suspended, and submit the form. Every time I have done that in the past year, the web site flashes a box that says, “We’re sorry our system is unable to complete your request at this time. Please call (it gives the phone number) during office hours (it gives the office hours). In the scheme of my life, this is a minor frustration.A web site that doesn’t work isn’t going to ruin my day. It is, however, a sign that the newspaper is unable to keep up with the pace of change in our world.

Admittedly, it has not been easy for newspapers to meet the technology challenge. Many papers, like our local one, were slow to get into the internet distribution of the news. The web site for our local newspaper is slow to have current news, and is awkward to navigate when they finally get the news posted. There are way too many popup ads and many of those ads take over the entire screen rather than just a portion of it. There are dozens of “hover” ads on news stories, so if you leave your cursor in the wrong location for a few seconds, the screen changes to an advertisement and you have to re-navigate to the story you want to read. As I write this morning seven of the top ten articles on the home page of the newspaper’s site are more than 24 hours old. Because the site ranks news stores by popularity rather than relevance, it is hard to find things that are genuinely news.

That list of complaints is added to the fact that their customer service pages are less than optimal to make using their web site a challenge. This would be forgiven if the print edition were still a first-class newspaper. Of course, like print papers around the world, it simply isn’t up to the standards of a few years ago. The radical decrease in staff at the newspaper means that machines check spelling and grammar and they don’t do a very good job at that task yet.

Just as I can remember my father complaining about bankers hours, an issue that simply doesn’t exist for my children, I’m pretty sure my grandchildren would find my complaints about the newspaper to be completely irrelevant. They probably don’t even know what is meant by the term newspaper.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!