Friday, February 22, 2013

Low-Information Brick Wall

A few weeks ago I went up against a wall that was hard to break through. I was just trying to get some photos printed before going to see my mom, who can’t receive anything digital in her pre-computer world. I used to use a local photo shop that I loved; they had weekly sales of 7-cent photos, slightly smaller (3 ½ x 5, instead of the more standard 4x6). It was cheap enough that I could print out practically everything for my mom, without having to take too much time going over each photo to decide if it was worth sharing. And they always gave me good service and had lots of extra options. But they went out of business last summer, so I have been trying to adjust by using the local Wal-Mart photo center.

Some of the difficulty of the change is my technological challenge; I haven’t figured out how to override the automatic cropping for size (my old shop used to let me adjust the auto crop before placing the order). But at least I can get photos at only about double the previous cost (13-cents for 4x6 photos) if I get over 100 at once. Well, I’ve been building up for a while. I hadn’t sent my mom photos of the new grandson, or any photos of him growing (he’s five months old already). I hadn’t sent photos from our Thanksgiving trip, or Christmas with the kids visiting. So there were plenty—over 200 that I was printing.
It took a while to put in the order, and while they said they’d be ready in an hour, I wasn’t able to get back before an evening event, so I stopped in just before 9:00 PM. I should preface by saying the regular Wal-Mart photo guy, there during most daytime hours, has been knowledgeable and helpful. But he was gone for the day. In fact, the equipment in the photo section was covered, and I wasn’t sure I could still get my photos, but I was going to be gone the next day, and the day after that was my packing day, so an extra trip to the photo section would have been inconvenient. So I looked to the nearby electronics section.
There were two workers there. I asked them if they could help me pick up my photos. No answer. They spoke to each other, in Spanish. I speak Spanish, but whatever was said was mumbled, and they didn’t respond to me. I repeated my request. The young man, still without speaking to me, went toward the photo center, so I followed. He asked my name, which is a little hard to understand and spell, so, while I said it, I also got out my claim ticket, which had my name on it. He saw the name; he heard me say it. But he kept looking in the Ms (instead of the Ns) and saying “Is it such-and-such?” No. And I showed him again how it was written on the claim ticket. He brought a stack from the Ns, a few Nguyens (the most common N name around here) and then mine, which was a sizable stack of envelopes in itself. I told him which ones were mine—the ones with my name clearly written on them.
the alphabet book I made for my granddaughter
during a flurry of crafting
There was a note attached that 7 of the photos needed copyright permission. This was puzzling, because I thought they were all mine. The young man started looking through the photos to find out what the problem was. He found photos of a book and decided that must be the cause. It was a one-of-a-kind book I made myself, for my granddaughter—an alphabet book with animals made from thumbprint drawings. I took the photos of the book to show my daughter, whom I was going to see on the trip, because the book had turned out so cute. There was no copyright infringement. My book; my photos. So he kept looking.
Eventually I opened up one of the envelopes that had a separate envelope in it; these were the questionable photos. It was my fault; I had downloaded photos from my son-in-laws Facebook page, of him. They were team photos, and I didn’t have any such photos of him, so I wanted to save them. But I hadn’t looked at them for a while, and I hadn’t realized they were not photos he had posted; they were photos he was tagged in, done by a professional photographer. I saw the little icons on my computer and thought, I’d like to show these to my mom. Once I understood, I said,”These are the problem. I had forgotten I couldn’t print these. So I’ll just leave them and buy the other photos.”
The young man kept looking through all the other photos, saying he couldn’t give me these without copyright permission. I repeated my explanation, saying I just wanted all but the 7 photos copyrighted ones, so just subtract 7 x $.13 from the total and I’d pay.
He didn’t know how to find out what I owed, so I should just come back tomorrow. Now, Wal-Mart is open 24 hours a day, and I was there in person, ready to pay. There should be no problem. But, while my order had shown me what the cost would be, on their computer, the claim slip didn’t show the price, and he didn’t know how to find out what it was. I’m thinking a bar code would do, but he seemed to think he could only get that done at the photo center till, which was closed down for the night.
So I pulled a calculator out of my purse and did the math. I had about 230 photos at $.13 each, minus the 7 photos (so subtract $.91), and then add in a few 5x7s. He didn’t know how much a 5x7 cost; it didn’t happen to be written on one of the signs behind him, and I couldn’t remember. But I knew it showed me on the computer, so I pulled out my SD card to start a new order, just to find out what a 5x7 would cost. Fortunately I was able to abbreviate that process when I noticed the price of a 5x7 written on a note on the computer. So I wrote out the math on the claim ticket and showed him what I owed, before tax.
“I don’t know how to charge you for that.” Seriously? He works in electronics. He doesn’t know how to use a cash register? Any cash register in the store? At about this time, the female worker from electronics, that he had spoken to when I first asked for help, came over and offered to help me. She took the claim ticket to her register in electronics, charged me the 30-something dollars, and I left with my photos (minus the 7 I couldn’t take). Mission impossible accomplished.
The young man getting paid to do work in electronics at Wal-Mart (where I assume there is a need for some knowledge of how to use equipment, probably beyond my knowledge of such things) couldn’t read my name or find it alphabetically in a drawer. He couldn’t do simple math. He couldn’t solve a simple problem. And he couldn’t figure out how to have a customer pay a known amount at a cash register. I had to do all of the thinking necessary to get what I wanted, pay for it, and leave with what was mine.
I related this tale of woe to Mr. Spherical Model when I got home, and he made me feel worse by saying, “And the sad thing is, this guy probably votes.”
Whether he is in the portion of the population we call low-information voters, or whether he’s even below that in the half of the population that is so little engaged that they don’t even bother to vote, the trouble is, those of us with understanding, who are making efforts to do our best to be civic minded and make wise voting decisions, are at the mercy of the uninformed.
The president doesn’t even bother to talk to people like me; he only talks to those who are so little aware that they will believe him when he says outright lies. Just minor ones this week: “I didn’t have anything to do with the sequester; that was Congress,” and “If these disastrous cuts go through, you’ll lose police protection and fire protection,” knowing full well that those services are paid for locally, and even a total end of all the federal budget would not take a single police officer off our local streets.
Education, of course, is something we’d like to see working better, but I don’t see that happening with government doing all it can to indoctrinate rather than allow the teaching of thinking skills. The power-mongers see it as an advantage to have an uninformed populous reliant on them. And, seriously, I don’t know what to do about stupid. It may not be possible to fix stupid.

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