In a video by a sympathetic duo of Dutch bloggers (Bakkie met Bergsma en Bennink) I came across the call to make more use of old-fashioned, tangible mail instead of e-mail, Whatsapp, Twitter and the like. A very good idea for several reasons!
One reason they haven’t mentioned yet though, and I’ll go into that quite extensively here.
I do this on the basis of recent quite amazing personal experiences with ICT and on the basis of my ICT knowledge that I have acquired since the early eighties. First as an employee of a small software house and of an ICT multinational and then in education and elsewhere. I could write a book about it or easily fill a video of a few hours with it.
I hold back and describe just three ‘ICT experiences’ that at first glance seem to have little in common. The first is related to medical care, the second to public transport – both in my country, the Netherlands – and the third to scientific study of history, worldwide.
Tangible mail ..
In the Netherlands, everyone is obliged to take an insurance for health care.
But not only that: to be able to appeal to medical specialists, a so-called ‘referral letter’ [“verwijsbrief”] is required from the general practitioner. Everyone is allowed (!) to choose his or her own GP. In principle, this also applies to medical specialists. That concept has a name that is also in the law on health insurance: “Free Choice of Doctor”.
That choice is under pressure in various ways, but what really stands out is the fact that there are simply not enough GPs in parts of the country. To speak of ‘Free choice of doctor’ there is nonsense, but almost everyone in politics continues to do so.
Already for several years now I would have loved to go to another general practice. In the six years that I have been a patient of the one I found when I moved here, I have had only negative experiences with them.
Luckily I am in perfect health, only my skin is causing some problems. So I would like to visit a dermatologist.
A large hospital, closer than that annoying GP practice, has a dermatology department.
When I contact it I am told that even if I am willing to pay the costs out of my own pocket, a referral letter from a general practitioner is still needed …
I want to appeal to the insurer. However, there is only a chatbot behind the phone and it cannot answer difficult questions: I can only send an old-fashioned letter. “Use a post stamp”, it is explicitly added.
I do NOT receive an answer in a letter, but in the ‘online’ account I must have with that insurer. That is to say: I get a MESSAGE THAT the answer can be found over there. However, I can’t view that answer because the entire website is down. And that for several days.
I’m getting angry. To get over that anger, I remind myself that my complaints are far from life-threatening. But then I get even angrier: imagine being someone who is not very healthy and then ending up in such an absurd situation!
In the second half of the last century, passenger transport by train was almost exclusively carried out by the (semi) public company ‘Nederlandse Spoorwegen‘. Around 2000, that company was placed at a greater distance from the government, the organization of transport was separated, as it were, from the rails and in the first decade of this century other companies also started offering passenger transport.
Partly at the same time, partly a little later, the traditional cardboard train tickets have been abolished and replaced. A suitable image turned out to be surprisingly difficult to find! Presumably a billion of those so-called Edmondson cards were cut in the Netherlands, a large number of which when there were already mobile phones with a built-in camera …
The image here is from a 2017 publication and shows an event from 60 to 70 years ago. The choice of such a photo was in line with the text of that publication: long live ‘progress’ and let’s get rid of that old-fashioned world!
In recent years, people have used the services of more than one transport company for one train journey. And now they travel with a plastic card from which they themselves cannot read whether that card is OK! A few years ago, this resulted in two hefty fines for me because I thought I had checked in with another carrier for a second part of a journey, while the ticket does not show me, but only to the inspector with his or her reading-device, that this did not had gone well. Recently, the inspectors have become less strict: after all, they have experienced many times that things can go wrong in very different ways. Which brings me to the phenomenon of QR codes.
The exclusions based on the SARS_CoV_2 circus were implemented in the Netherlands using so-called QR codes.
Fans of that government policy made fun of people who expressed their distaste for QR codes in general.
Ignoring the fundamental problem: forcing people to carry an information carrier that they cannot read themselves.
Before preparing this text I never came across this curious term ‘self-reading’ by the way. And not all online dictionaries provide the two very different meanings! And none gives the meaning of ‘non self-reading‘ …
File formats as ancient history
The third of these worrying experiences is perhaps the most underestimated, while in my view it is also the most disturbing: the undermining of scientific study, especially the scientific study of history. I was reminded of it when writing this review.
In that review I refer, following the unsurpassable Jan Bonte, to an extensive in-depth study by Hartmut M Hanauske-Abel. Published in 1996 in the British Medical Journal. [‘Not a slippery slope or sudden subversion: German medicine and National Socialism in 1933’].
That publication received much acclaim. Traces of this can still be found on the website of the British Medical Journal (link to that praise for study of Hanauske). But all things considered, really just traces.
Walter H Schneider, a retired systems analyst from Canada in 1999 referred to a German study that threw additional light on the history of the German intelligentsia before, during and after the Nazi regime. The links he provided to his English translations of parts of it are dead:
the platforms in question no longer exist. This is an almost insignificant example of a much, much more comprehensive problem.
A lot of digitally stored information can only be consulted in a very cumbersome way because file formats in which this information is recorded are outdated: after only a few years! A few years ago there was already a report about the de facto loss of large numbers of valuable BBC documentaries.
What a contrast to libraries!
And this Saraswathi Mahal Library is one of the oldest libraries in the world, but only in the category of libraries that still exist as a library. Other libraries are much older yet!
No misunderstanding: I have not for nothing based the ‘featured image’ of this blogpost on the one of this post about kilobytes and gigabytes.
I just added that line “Computer says: No”. That is a sentence from the British television series ‘Little Britain‘ that has become so famous in a part of the world that a so-called meme generator -yes, they exist- suggests the image with that sentence as a template. (I advice you not to follow this link to news about banning Little Britain series from all kind of platforms).
And with that I almost automatically return to the ‘podcast’ of those sympathetic bloggers I started with in this post. I hope I was able to convince you that this is not about nostalgia!
The idea of using more old-fashioned, tangible mail had also crossed my mind. Some of my paintings are now available as a postcard.
In the receipt note for people who order those postcards I have included this text:
In times of all kinds of almost total control over digital messages, sending old-fashioned letter mail in itself almost becomes an act of resistance! I hope the use of my postcards will contribute to this. A small contribution, but nevertheless.