The smartest man I know is having an almost impossible time transitioning to a new email provider. He can’t figure out how to use the auto-suggest feature, so he constantly sends messages to the wrong email account—or, occasionally, the wrong person.
But he’s not alone.
A New York City attorney inadvertently sent me a draft of an alleged confidential agreement just a few days ago. I only discovered it was a mistake when I called him in confusion, trying to figure out why he had sent it to me. He intended to send it to someone who shares my first name, but clicked on mine because it appeared first in his contact list.
Not long before that, a medical facility mistakenly faxed me the health records of an elderly and very sick patient. The fax contained a significant amount of personal information, including the woman’s Medicare information—which, as every identity thief knows, is typically the insured’s Social Security number. Whoever faxed the document made a one-digit error when entering the area code.Just yesterday, as I was hitting the send button on a newly composed email, I realized I’d attached the wrong image to the file. I sent the original, instead of the edited version of a photo. It was a personal message, directed to a friend, so the mistake wasn’t catastrophic. But what if it had been a business message?
Before technology became an integral part of our lives, we only worried about our mouths moving faster than our brains. Now we also have to worry that our fingers will move too fast.
Not thinking before you speak has evolved to not thinking before you send.
I kept my AOL account long after it had lost most of its usefulness simply because I was wedded to one component of its email system: the ability to recall a message sent to another AOL member. As long as the message hasn’t been opened, you have the option to delete it.
That feature saved me from more than a few potentially embarrassing moments. But gradually, more and more of the contacts on my email list stopped using AOL. Since the AOL system didn’t give users the option to recall messages sent to people who use other email providers, it gradually lost its usefulness.
Now the burden is on me: I have to think before I send.
Technology increases efficiency, but it can also increase mistakes. It gives all of us with too little time to be patient the opportunity to embarrass ourselves faster, easier and with alarming frequency.
I’ve often wished that life, like the movies, came with a soundtrack. Right before you did something dangerous, damaging or stupid, some ominous music would swell in the background, warning you of your impending mistake.
Since that’s not the case, I wish technology could save us from itself. Would it be so hard to embed a few optional redundancies in software applications to remind us to think?
Maybe email programs could ask, before sending, ask if we really wanted to hit send and simultaneously flash the full name of the person who would receive it. Or maybe the programs could put a 30-minute delay on messages recipients were likely to find annoying or offensive.
Then again, I guess we could all just take the time to think. But it would just be so much easier to have technology to blame for our mistakes.