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How do I Communicate with You?

Published in ChicagoNow, November 20, 2017

The irate parent had showed up for preschool with her three-year-old and baby in tow. When she was told it was a non-school day, she erupted in rage. How was she supposed to know that? Despite receiving this information on school-year and monthly calendars and newsletters, both paper and via email, and weekly classroom news via email, she felt she was not sufficiently informed. Having access to this information on the website was not deemed enough notification. Signs posted all over the school building were not helpful.

I suppose if the school had sent her a text early that morning, she may have noticed it. But maybe not, and expecting a preschool that had already notified her multiple times to also send a text is a pretty high demand. I know. No one reads anything on paper anymore. Email has become obsolete. As my friends all acknowledge, to get the attention of their grown children, text. If the message is too long, text them to check their email. Don’t bother leaving messages on their cell phones. They will see that you called and may or may not return the call.

What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate

It seems to me that the more ways we have to communicate information, the less informed we become. Like Captain said to prisoner Paul Newman in the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” Those of us who have given up on phone calls and voicemail messages in favor of email are stymied. Turns out email is not the preferred form of communication these days. Texts are limited to 918 characters, but if you send more than 160 characters in a message, it will be broken down into 153-character chunks. This paragraph has 654 characters, so you get the idea. As Burr tells Hamilton in the musical, “talk less, smile more.”

A recent run-in with our bank, which has actually been several different banks since we started using its services some 40 years ago, is a perfect example of how technology has both given us more communication tools and ironically less ability to, well, communicate. Someone had stolen some of our paper checks and used them at stores where I would never write a check – a grocery, Walmart, and Home Depot. In fact, I rarely write checks these days, but I do not have my checkbook locked up. So maybe my bad, but it happened.

Here’s the amazing thing. With all of the technology at their disposal, the stores all cashed the checks. In ancient times with very little technology, I had to show my driver’s license and the cashier actually looked at my face on it to be sure I was the person named on the check. A good cashier would look at my signature on the license to see if it matched the one on the check as well. I know this is true because I had several part-time cashiering jobs back in the early 60s. Whatever. Somehow, these checks went through.

I’m proud that I caught the fraud quickly by looking for something else in my account. Yes, I found the forgeries online, so bravo for technology. I foolishly thought the best way to communicate and clear up this problem was to show up at my local community bank and talk to a personal banker. That was my first false assumption. You see, my bank is not really local. Maybe it was 40 years ago, but it has been swallowed by a series of larger banks. Each time this happened, technology increased but service declined.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but I’m not really sure what the point of having personal bankers, or even brick and mortar banks, is in 2017. He seemed put out that I was asking him to do anything and, after wasting an hour in which he was unable to resolve my problem or produce the forms I needed to make a fraud claim, he sent me home with the 800 number. Apparently, an in-person banker can’t get through to “corporate” any faster than I can on my own, and doesn’t have access to the forms needed to solve my problem. Communicating person to person was a huge fail. I went home, called the 800 number myself, and was only on hold for 20 minutes until a very nice service representative emailed and faxed me the forms my banker couldn’t access.

Here’s an interesting aside. Two of the forged checks were submitted electronically by the stores. Who knew that was a thing? Those were easy to reverse and only required one simple form. But the grocery store that deposited the paper check was a huge issue for the bank. This required two detailed forms plus a police report, and I won’t see that money for a couple of months.

Recently, I was having coffee with a friend and my cell phone rang. I saw it was one of my daughters, so I answered and explained where I was. Her response – why did you pick up? Because it was you. Because it may have been important. Because I am a woman from a different time in which people answered their phones and later read all of their emails.

In the end, I’m left with this question. With so many communication tools at our disposal today, how do I reach you?


by Laurie Levy
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