Friday, February 16, 2018

Dear Ford Canada,

You win.

Despite being assured during numerous phone-calls by your several customer service line representatives that a supervisor would return my call in two business days (didn't happen), by 7:00 p.m. (also didn't happen), and to quote "I guarantee that my supervisor will call you in the morning" (nope), I no longer want to talk to your supervisor. Why? Because I am willing to concede in this big corporation tactic I like to call the-customer-will-eventually-give-up game.

I write this open letter because as I grow older, I vow not to become a grumpy, bitter old man. Let me rephrase: I hope to grow old but I am actively working on preventing the bitterness that sometimes comes with age. I seek not to be a complainer. I do not have grudges I wish to nurture. I do not get offended by everything I disagree with. I recognize and am grateful for my privileges. Perhaps I'm stereotyping, but I want to age intentionally mindful that life is too fantastic and too enjoyable to waste time on being angry. Plus, like all of life's experiences, despite the wrongs, this one had some 'rights' too.

If it mattered to you then you might be pleased that one of the 'rights' included how I was treated by my local Ford dealership. When my 2013 vehicle went into the shop over a month ago for a new block heater, I expected to have it back in a day or two like every other time my vehicle has needed service. Great local service is one of the reasons my wife and I have purchased for each other and our family--and this fact surprised me when I did the math--eight Ford vehicles from my local dealership in the past 25 years. So, when I was told that a hose broke during the installation, I authorized a replacement, and here I am a month later still waiting for that hose. During that time, our local dealership has provided a courtesy car to us, but mostly I have been using my wife's vehicle (also a Ford) for the 2 hour commute I take for work sometimes three days weekly. She has been using the courtesy vehicle. Our local dealership is also installing better tires on the courtesy vehicle because (and I quote) "at no point in time do we want our customers in a non safe vehicle." Fist bump.

Anyway, after a month of searching for a part--apparently there were none in North America--I am told it is slowly making its way to Alberta. Is that little hose-r driving itself? Is it being transported by a donkey? (Oops, bitter moment.) Now remember my vehicle, a very common Ford Escape, is just barely five years old. And consider that some people might not even own their 2013s yet. How then could this part be so rare? About 2.5 weeks into this, I called your service line to beg someone to find another parts source. Nada.

Ok. Patience, right? Exactly. We all need patience. But after a month, I needed one of your Ford Canada supervisor to do four things:

  1. given the timeline, determine if there was any possible way this part could expedited,  
  2. given my vehicle's relative newness, explain how this happened and hear what you might do to prevent it from happening to others/me again,
  3. and in doing so, apply the phrase customer service literally by acknowledging the situation deserves a little more finesse than just a patronizing first level phone interview,
  4. but first, RETURN THE PROMISED CALL. 
But nope. No one called back. This kind of crap, Ford Canada (O you mighty corporation interested mostly in sales not service), is why I declare my defeat. 

Sure, I explored other avenues. For example, I researched the woefully pitiful other contact information on your website essentially designed to undermine human contact. I took the surveys after I spoke to your customer service line operators but they informed me that the surveys were actually my opportunity to judge their phone skills, not assess the INCREDIBLE lack of follow up. (Oops, creeping into bitter again. Sorry.) And so I will continue to wait patiently and thus prevent the bitter-old-man-ness from clogging my veins. 

Or...I suppose there are a few other things I could try including social media or perhaps sharing my struggles with Chev or Honda or Dodge or Toyota? But is the competition any different? Maybe it's time to find out? Another avenue is to never buy another Ford vehicle. We can always vote with our pocketbooks right? That is a tempting option, but honestly, my local Ford dealership has always been good to us. Whatever I do or do not do next, this experience reinforced, at least for me, that customer service is alive at local businesses, yet quite cremated at the Ford Canada Corporation.

In closing, I'd wish you a good day, but you aren't listening anyway. So instead, a good day to my readers. Do what you will with this info, my friends. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018


Source, no changes
I tend to think in stories and the best ones inhabit me, so as I learn more about the digital humanities—like the fish gaining heightened awareness about the water in which he swims—one story resonates. In “Men areDifferent,” Alan Bloch (1963) writes about a robot archeologist—an android indistinguishable from humans—who tells about the shared history of robots and humans and then describes his trip to a faraway planet where he encountered a man, the last one in the universe. This lonely man “had forgotten how to talk” but with time, the robot and the man learned to communicate. One day the man complained of heat so the robot, inferring that the man’s thermostats were faulty, turned him off by piercing his neck—the same method used to switch off a robot—but alas, he could not get him “running” again. Soon this last man weathered away to bones. A classic science fiction foreboding, elements in Bloch’s tale align with my expanding knowledge and experience of the digital humanities and, as an educator, studying this field awakens within me an urgency for ongoing education, new literacies, and collaboration to foster a more humanistic future for our society. As MIT Scholars Burdick, et al, (2012) ask, what does it mean to be a human being in the networked information age? (p. vii). We had better find out.

Although written in the 1960s, Bloch’s story echoes our current digital reality. Almost everyone on Earth (myself included) is in what feels like an benign relationship with a smart device, yet the power dynamics are not reciprocal. For example, corporations like Facebook use us puppet-like as “unpaid labour” (Berry & Fagerjord, 2017, p. 16) as they mine our online practices for consumer trends and patterns. Each ‘like’ is data for them and dopamine for us. How did we end up here? Technology and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier (2011) cautions, “[i]t is time to take stock” (p. 19), time to expose the ways technological tools have evolved (or not) and critically examine their effects on crowd behaviours, finance, research, culture, even spirituality: “the deep meaning of personhood is being reduced by illusions of bits” (Lanier, p. 19-20). Technology is accelerating rapid social change in how we shop, engage with text, communicate, even fall in love. Amidst the knowledge and skills required to navigate this rapid change and their underlying mechanisms, how do we reinforce humanistic pursuits?

Taking stock means assessing our current situation, getting educated, and acting on it in ways that advance epistemology, reasoning, and practices. Although Bloch’s story fancies that technological determinism—powered by artificial intelligence toward a dangerous endgame—is inevitable, our global society can still influence and positively alter our future if we embrace means and methods that seek to enlighten our technological paths and the information it produces. We can continue to simply consume slick technology for convenience, escapism, trolling—whatever ‘feels’ we seek—or we can use these tools to enable an alternative: “we have to think about the digital layers we are laying down now in order to benefit future generations” and address important issues including “global warming… new energy … wars… aging populations …basic business” (Lanier, 2011, p. 36). There is much to understand about the digital underpinnings at play in our technology; Humanities-based literacies will play a significant role worldwide. Burdick, et al (2012), propose that “Digital humanities may well function as a core curriculum for the 21st century” (p. 5), one where we join forces as global stakeholders in advancing fundamental human rights and values. This is critical given our current environment. With something as simple as basic digital citizenship we have leaders tweeting about the size of their nuclear buttons

In Bloch’s story the robot-archaeologist acts as an historian yet his worldview is dangerously one-sided. By nature, archeology requires digging. Digital humanities provide a means to ‘dig’ into Lanier’s “layers” and “structures” inherent in both the sciences and the humanities. Rosenbloom (2012) highlights a need for “a form of methodological pluralism in which multiple methods may be necessary to increase our understanding of individual domains” (p. 223). This requires a new collaboration between the humanities and the sciences, a return to a basic founding principle of the digital Information Age: “[the Internet itself] provided a new model of how people could communicate with each other, [and] changed the nature of collaboration” (Lenier, et al, 1997, p. 7). Digital Humanities scholars, Berry & Fagerjord (2017) also emphasize renewed and new forms of collaboration to facilitate “both the ‘hack’ aspect of knowing how to use computers in humanities scholarship, and the ‘yack’ aspect of knowing how to think about what it is we are doing” (p. 1). Lanier (2010) likewise illustrates the associated negative outcomes of a lack of collective, thoughtful reflection on how to use technology nobly: “I fear we are beginning to design ourselves to suit digital models of us, and I worry about a leaching of empathy and humanity in the process” (p. 39).

Bloch’s robot-archeologist, certainly lacked the necessary empathy and humanity, thus the tragic outcome. The story evokes the discord between “machine” and mankind, what Rosenbloom (2012) refers to as the “uneasy relationship between science and the humanities” (p. 220). If Bloch’s robot represents science, and pathos for the last man represents the absence of humanities, Bloch’s climax implies that we must better understand our technological tools and their impact or, through ignorance and entropy, aid our downfall. It is necessary to infuse a humanistic worldview in our approach to technology or like the fate of Bloch’s last man see our values “weather away.” But how? Through education and new literacies that combine the sciences and the humanities and through shared goals. Without it, we will remain like intellectuals feasting at a dinner party, armed with only perfunctory knowledge about our food’s origins and thus continue take our feast for granted.

In Bloch’s story the robot and the man had to learn to communicate with each other. Assuming mankind created the robot, how did they lose a common language? At some historical point, one might hypothesize they evolved to form differing networks. Using his treatise on our networked society in the Information Age, Castells (2000) might also propose that one network had switched off another it deemed no-longer compatible (p. 22). Castells (2000) notes that “there is little chance of social change within a given network” (p. 22) except “to challenge the network from the outside and in fact destroy it by building an alternative network around alternative values” (p. 16). Indeed. This is key to our current story too. If we develop an alternative network founded on technical literacy combined with humanities principles—such as wisdom, philosophy, reasoning—we can foster a new discourse, one founded in critical thinking intent on using powerful technological tools for greater social stewardship: “Digital_Humanities…envisages the present era as one of exceptional promise for the renewal of humanistic scholarship and sets out to demonstrate the contributions of contemporary humanities scholarship to new modes of knowledge formation enabled by networked, digital environments.” (Burdick, et al, 2012, p. 7).

Like Bloch’s story reveals, there is a current need to reflect on unequal power dynamics and expose/examine the “switchers or power-holders in our society (…connections between media and politics, financial markets and technology, science and the military, and drug traffic and global finance through money laundering)” (Castells, 2000, p. 16). In doing so, we can expose this “human-made automaton” (Castells, 2000, p. 17) global network currently shaping our society rather than the other way around. As Lanier (2010) states, “someone who has been immersed in [our current] orthodoxy [like a fish unaware of the water] needs to experience a figure-ground reversal in order to gain perspective” (p. 23). I am most interested in Lanier’s (2010) “alternative mental environment” (p. 26), with diverse perspectives not composed of a mass of “people who are no longer acting like individuals” (p. xiii). Digital humanities provide new ways to reflect on technology, media, text, research, our values, our future. As an educator dedicated to advancing learning, I recognize at the core of Bloch’s story the breakdown that enables a technological dystopia: ignorance, sustained by apathy or exploited by greed. I doubt Bloch’s notion of our bleak future; however, without education and new literacies—without the combined ‘hack’ and ‘yack,’ we may not even recognize what is human, if we are all thinking like Bloch’s robot. 

Berry, D. & Fagerjord, A. (2017) On the way to computational thinking. In Digital Humanities: Knowledge and Critique in a Digital Age. Malden, MA: Polity. 1, 16.

Bloch, A. (1963). Men are Different. In Fifty Short Science Fiction Tales. Asimov, I. & Conklin, G. (Eds.) Collier Books. USA. Retrieved from's/Short%20Stories/Men%20Are%20Different.pdf

Burdick, A., Drucker, J., Lunenfeld, P., Presner, T. & Schnapp, J. (2012). Digital_Humanities. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT Press. Cambridge, MA. vii, 5, 7.

Castells, M. (2000). Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society. British Journal of Sociology. Vol. No. 51 Issue No. 1. London School of Economics 2000. 16, 17, 22.

Lanier, J. (2010). You are not a Gadget. Vintage Books. New York, NY. xiii, 19-20, 23, 26, 36, 39.

Lenier, B.M., et al. (1997). Brief History of the Internet. Internet Society. 7. Retrieved from

Rosenbloom, P. (2012). Toward a Conceptual Framework for the Digital Humanities. In Digitial Humanities Quarterly, 6 (2). 220, 223. Retrieved from
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