Tuesday, March 24, 2015

URGENT!!! "Attention Must Be Paid": Techno-Responsibility (31 May 2013)

         This is a brief meditation based on my phone messages, week's mail, "e" and otherwise, and an important episode in Lisa Mason's  Arachne (1990).

Arachne is a "kinder, gentler" cyberpunk novel, but those standards leave a lot of room for cruelty and nastiness; and Mason's protagonist, Carly Nolan, is a near-future attorney who spends a fair portion of the novel as an ambitious and nasty young shark at prey in "telelink" (= cyberspace, no ™).
         Carly comes up with a way of robbing a widow by dealing with the widow's intellectual property — the widow's mite left her by her husband — as "intangible real property" in cyberspace to which Carly gets a court to apply the legal doctrine of "adverse possession. You don't need, it's just that the widow in theory could have defended her (intellectual) property against a large, rapacious corporation but failed to do so (ch. 7). So the company exploited her property without her knowledge for a considerable period, and then got ownership of the property — a valuable invention — because they had exploited it unopposed for that period.

         Mason has committed here the satiric act of reductio ad finem & absurdum: pushing an idea until it gets absurd and grotesque. She is artfully showing us possibly future horrors in the law and moving her plot and developing her protagonist and doing all sorts of literary, fictive things.

         Still ….

         Still, in our world, today, if you and I can keep an eye on our accounts and business dealings — keep in "constant contact" with our money and such, 24/7 — if we can take thorough responsibility for managing our money and protecting our interests, then are we obligated to do so? Along with that, if we can stay on the web and track our packages and check our flights and watch our investments and all — if we can handle such matters, what are the obligations of the large companies with whom we deal?

         At one time, it looked like someone was using my credit card to buy drinks for the house in a pub in Scotland when I was definitely in Oxford, Ohio. Turns out that was a mistake, but I got a personal call from someone in the credit card anti-fraud office. Would that happen today? Would it be legally sufficient for them if the credit card folk left a robo-call voice message for me, telling me to go on line and check my account?

         More generally — and importantly, since there are legal protections with credit card (identity) theft — more generally, what kind of "due diligence," or simply effort, is required of companies that want to contact me on matters serious for me? (Or you, but I care more about me.)

         Since I can keep a cell phone with me almost all the time, am I expected to? There are families who do expect to be in "constant contact" with one another, and I've heard of parents who get upset if their kids don't call them frequently or if the kids fail to "pick up" immediately when the parents call. And I know parents who're pretty much constantly available for their offspring, including older-teen offspring who at least should be no longer children.

         Am I expected to take calls from robots and/or listen to entire spiels on voice-mail? Has a company made a good-faith effort to contact me if they send me mail that is less than first class and ambiguously labeled, if there's a return address at all?

         My questions here are loaded, but not rhetorical.

         So I'm making a public announcement, right here on the web where any company that takes personal corporate responsibility can see it: You want to contact me — have a human being call me on a regular phone (not some high-tech multiple-dialer from a cube-farm phone bank) and talk to me. Or have a human send me a letter or an e-mail and label it so that I'll know it's something I need to read and deal with.

         And for The Powers That Be in the Postal Service: Sell stamps that make clear what the hell the stamps are and what they cost and signify. And alert the Federal Trade Commission to come down with both feet with their cleats on on any company that implies to us old farts and other gullible sorts that we owe such companies money and/or that they have an URGENT MESSAGE!!! for us.

         Nowadays people can keep track of all our dealings and we could open and read all our mails. We could take all our calls or listen to all the messages. But we'd be gullible idiots to do so.

         So, all you corporate people out there (and "Corporations are people, my friend"): Those are my policies, right here is cyberspace for you to see and read and study: and they are policy stated, I'll modestly assert, with far more brevity and clarity than, say, your average End-User License Agreement. That you could have checked out my blog means that you should have — and should be aware of my personal, hence corporate-equivalent, policies: policies that are soon, I hope, to be legally binding.

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