Here is one of the most amazing stories about an unthinking reliance on technology that I’ve heard in a long time. Verizon does not allow the setting up of accounts that have profanity in the name of the account. This might sound reasonable on its face since you can imagine a young English major deciding it would be cool to have their email address set up to be email@example.com as an homage to her favorite faculty member at PSU (although I’m not sure why anyone would really care if that was indeed someone’s email address but apparently, Verizon does care and I suppose that is their right). So the problem is not that someone at Verizon thought it would be good to have automated checks for such things. The problem arises when there is an unthinking application of the rule so that legitimate requests are denied.
And that’s exactly what happened to Dr. Herman Lipshitz when he tried to set up an Internet account with Verizon. He was told that because his name contains the word shit, he could not use it as his username for the account. Like any good customer with a legitimate complaint, he asked to speak to a supervisor. When the supervisor insisted that the rule must stand (and that perhaps the good doctor should misspell his name in order to get around the rule), Dr. Lipshitz called the billing department and spoke to another supervisor. That supervisor said that the only person who could deal with it was someone in Tampa who would have to call India to have the computer code changed to allow an exception for this account. The person from Tampa would call him back. No one called but eventually, Dr. Lipshitz received a letter telling him that his name could not be used for his email account because it violates Verizon’s policy for allowable usernames. So Dr. Lipshitz called the Philadelphia Inquirer and after Daniel Rubin published an article about the incident, Verizon relented, saying, “As a general rule (since 2005) Verizon doesn’t allow questionable language in e-mail addresses, but we can, and do, make exceptions based on reasonable requests.” Dr. Lipshitz points out that he gets phone service from Verizon, is listed as Lipshitz in Verizon’s phone book and, perhaps most importantly, Verizon regularly cashes his checks with the name Lipshitz prominantly displayed on them.
About 15 years ago, I purchased something at a grocery store. The total came to $2.37. I gave the cashier $5.37 but she had already put $5.00 into the cash register which told her the change should be $2.63. Despite five minutes of arguing, I could not convince her that it would be ok to take my $5.37 and give me $3.00 in change. Until now, that had been my best story of an overreliance on technology. That has now changed.
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.