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07/08/2003 Archived Entry: "Who serves the database?"

STANDING IN LINE AT THE POST OFFICE YESTERDAY. The clerk and the woman ahead of me were chatting away, old friends, old neighbors. This is a small town and that's what it's always like around here. The customer was writing a check as they chatted.

Then the clerk said, "I have to tell you ... next time you come in, I have to ask you for ID with your check."

The customer seemed surprised, but not terribly.

"Sorry," the clerk continued, obviously uncomfortable, "Orders. As of Wednesday, I have to get ID -- even if I know you. Even from my son or daughter. All our checks are going Minnesota now, and that's the rule."

The customer shrugged. If you can't fight city hall, you sure can't fight the postal monopoly. Never mind how cold, how irrational, how wasteful, how unfriendly, how downright stupid it is to submit to having your ID checked and recorded by someone you've known all your life.

There is NO point to this little exercise of getting ID from your friends except to Impose Procedure, Enforce Compliance, dehumanize relationships -- and of course to get customers' drivers license numbers into one more centralized database. Not one whit will it improve the rate of check clearance. In a town like ours, honesty (if it needs enforcing at all) is best enforced by knowing you have to look the same clerk in the eye tomorrow. Asking old friends and neighbors for their ID will only alienate them (subtly or overtly) and render them less friendly and loyal and ultimately less reliable.

This is a perfect example of Procedure -- Inflexible, One-Size-Fits-All Procedure -- trumping common sense.

To you who live or travel in big, anonymous places, this little development in the Impersonal State may seem like a big ho-hummer. In a world of distrustful strangers, maybe checking ID makes sense. But wherever you're from, this checking the ID's of best friends, fathers, mothers, and neighbors is a perfect example of a meaningless rite to appease the Gods of the Data. Here, in this strange rite, people exist to serve that database, and not the other way around.

Posted by Claire @ 09:31 PM CST

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