Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Information Age?

I thought this was supposed to be the Information Age.

Last week, I was given what should have been a relatively simple task: find the names of the managers of about forty stores in the county so that we could send a letter about changes in the great state of New York’s recycling laws. A volunteer committee had compiled the list of stores, complete with addresses and phone numbers, but had not progressed beyond that.

Being a part-time resident of the modern age, I thought, “Okay, I’ll google it.” After all, everyone’s got a website, after all, and surely the name of the store manager is something you’d want to be available, right? I figured it would be a bit of a pain in the ass, but that it would not take a whole lot of time in the grand scheme of things.

I was wrong.

I was wrong about “everyone’s got a website” and I was wrong about having the names of store managers on those websites. My web search turned up five names: three managed separate stores from a single supermarket chain (which also lists the manager’s name on store receipts). One national home improvement store listed their manager by first name and last initial, only, which means I would have to address his letter as “Dear Mr. M.” One other store listed their manager, but that store is actually part of a franchise owned by someone who is actually local. It took me a while to find this out, and then I spent an hour-and-a-half on the phone, calling every store on my list. I got manager names for about half the stores, grudgingly given out by employees who often sounded too busy to bother talking on the phone.

Information Age, schminformation schmage.

Whether this obfuscation of managers is done as a deliberate corporate privacy policy or is because they figure managers aren’t likely to stay in those positions that long, and it’s such a hardship to change a name on a website, I don’t know. I do know it was an incredibly frustrating way to spend an afternoon. And more frustrating was when I would tell the employee who answered the phone what I was after and why, and they would insist on putting the manager on. Just give me the name! The managers typically sounded about as pressed for time as anyone else. They really didn’t want to talk about plastic recycling.

I understand why, for example, radio personalities have moved toward giving out their first names only (our local radio personalities include Gomez and Lisa, Big Chuck, and Leslie Ann; I have been on the radio with Big Chuck and Leslie Ann several times (it’s a small pond), have met them face-to-face, and still have no idea who they are). As personalities who reach thousands each day, they stand a better than average chance of attracting unwanted attention than the manager of the local Dollar General. Is it possible that someone’s going to navigate through a web page just to do this?

Maybe. But it seems to me most issues are going to come after someone meets or sees the manager in the store, where their name is likely to be up on the wall, or emblazoned on their chest in hard plastic.

There’s an irony here in a guy who uses his first name only complaining about not being able to find out information about store employees off the web. I get that, I really do, but there’s a difference, I think, between what I do here and those other people. I’m not asking for anything other than a name, and while names have power (as just about every mystical fantasy type of book tells us), I’m not looking for home addresses, personal e-mail, or how many kids they have. Just give me a name.

***

On an unrelated note, last week I noticed something rather stunning:

This weekend, we took a drive to do some shopping, and what amazed me was how green the lawns are getting again, and the fact that, here it is, mid-December, and I was able to go out with a light jacket on. I might actually have to get the lawn tractor out before Christmas!

Have a nice week, all.

6 Responses

  1. I have watched Investigation Discovery and you would be surprised about some of the random murders that do take place in real life. But usually these people are unlucky targets at the wrong place at the very wrong time not because their name was given over the phone. I get that you had to be very annoyed about having to force out these names. But at least you got the job done and know you did right by your task.

  2. I woke up to 66 degree temps this morning (6:30). If it weren't so dark out and rain wasn't threatening, I could have walked outside! I'm liking this weather in December! 🙂

  3. That sounds like an incredibly frustrating afternoon!!!

    We've had weirdly warm temps here too. It's currently raining (pouring!) and has been for about a week. For maybe the 2nd time in my lifetime we're looking at the very real possibility of a green Christmas

  4. I understand the frustration. I've done a lot of writing jobs where I had to find out information, not just names, that you'd think would be relatively easy to find but it just isn't. Not much greenery around these parts, just lots of mist and rain!

  5. I think the information age is also the privacy and paranoia age. And I bet dj's figure notoriety comes with the territory, but Walmart managers are probably scared some disgruntled customer or nut who doesn't like the window displays will do something to them or their family. I worked in a K-Mart in the Midwest and the average customer/employee's IQ is petty frightening. They're probably sure a "towel head" will come to their store and start shooting up the place. Congrats on the dandelion and the light jacket!

  6. Late replies largely due to sinus infection, sorry for the delay!
    -Sheena-kay: I did get it done, that is true. And now it's on to part II of that project!
    -Stacy: I'm hearing we're due for 68 on Christmas Eve. I just have this fear that it will be 0 on New Year's!
    -Jemi: Has the weather changed up there yet? Over the weekend, we had temps in the 20s and 30s, and dusting of snow (really hard to call a dusting, in fact) while about 30 miles north, they got a foot of it.
    -Nick: I guess it keeps us busy, right?
    -Lexa: In which case the anonymity won't help them at all, will it? It's funny, by and large I think we overshare via the internet, but we're sharing the WRONG information.

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