A great story shows just how dumb people are…
and how lazy the world has become


I have this theory about e-mail… it’s making us stupider as a group.

Ok, sure, the theory needs some work. It isn’t just e-mail… it’s texting on cell phones… it’s heading to the internet to immediately twit, tweet, or whatever word it is that explains what that is… it’s the overriding sense I get that as technology improves, people get dumber.

Let’s set the foundation of this story…

I’ve always believed that the power of Dilbert is found in the way that every strip has an element of truth to it. You can, if you decide you want to, evaluate the meaning of Dilbert any way you like. For me, that’s not the point. What matters… and what makes it so funny… is that whether the effort makes fun of management or staff, it is almost unerringly on target in accurately depicting the workplace environment. There is a scent of unnecessary work… consultants generally babble on with worthless suggestions that show zero understanding of what they were supposedly brought in to improve… and the superficial often defeats substance.

In one particularly great story… and the one that, go figure, applies here… the secretary of the pointy-haired-boss is training him to be helpless. She does this by performing every task for him, effectively leaving him unable to do anything. She then sends him on a trip and tells him not to speak.

To bring that element into some focus as to how it applies here… I’ve been to web sites that are absolutely pointless. They actually make me want to use a different company. One time, when trying to get a part for a piece of equipment, I literally couldn’t order it on-line. The company tried to make me go in person to one of their stores… which they said stocked the part, and of course, the store did not. It was literally impossible for me to order it from them. Which… naturally… was all the more ridiculous since I bought the equipment from that store chain.

I’ve also tried calling companies on the phone, only to be sent to automated-services-hell. Push this button… push that button… enter your account number. (Ugh.) About a week ago, I had to handle an error involving a check sent to a company. I didn’t send the check… I didn’t make the mistake... and it had nothing to do with any account with the company. Just a situation I had to correct. When I called the number they referred me to, their system wouldn’t let me proceed unless I entered my account number. I tried to get around this by calling one of the company’s stores directly. Didn’t work… got put on hold. Ultimately I had to go there in person, explain my problem to someone at the customer service desk, and wait out four transfers (along with two disconnects) before finally getting an answer.

I’ve ranted about the lack of respect that can be displayed and other situations like this before:

We’ve tremendously advanced our ability to communicate over the past few decades. Forget wireless phones… we’ve come to affordable cell phones (insert your own joke here) that everyone has. Instant news is available on television, or can be accessed on the internet. Heck, we have real-time scoring for fantasy football on sites that can provide you with more information than actual broadcasts! It seems quite evident our abundance of wonders will never cease.

Just one thing.

As the ability to communicate has become faster, easier, and more powerful… it seems to me that we’ve all lost our ability to communicate.

Yeah… technology is making our lives better… and we’ve all become more efficient.

Anyway… I begin with all of that to ultimately get to this story, which may be one of the funniest things I’ve seen in quite some time.

There was this group of people working on some road signs. And, it just so happened that these signs needed to be presented in two languages. Unfortunately, none of the people working on the signs was able to write or translate the material in the second language.

So, they sent an e-mail over to the person that could offer them the translation they needed. As it turns out, apparently that second language happened to be this person’s first language. See… they sent off their e-mail asking for a translation. And then… the response they got was in the language they had requested the material to be translated to.

Problem solved.


Well… no. Because what the response actually began with was: “I am not in the office at the moment.” Yup… you guessed it… an out-of-the-office, automatically generated message. And instead of considering that there was even a small chance the material wasn’t a translation, they went with it and made the signs up using the out-of-the-office message as if it was the translation they had requested.


Now look… mistakes happen. And as the article points out, horrible translations happen all the time. Working with multiple languages is always risky, and rarely smooth. So don’t take this as some sort of criticism of specific individuals or the overall work.

Instead I just want you to consider for a moment how ridiculous it is that it happened at all. If there hadn’t been an out-of-the-office response, the group would have either waited for a response or contacted someone else. When the sign was produced, there was no one to proofread it, and apparently procedures didn’t require someone double-checking it.

We’ve reached a point where people are in many ways helpless and lazy. And, I think there’s something to be said for the debates I’ve begun before about technology being a part of it.

Whether or not this was an honest mistake… an “oops” moment… the fact is that it is still a very dumb and lazy one. It shows how important it is to finish off an assignment… to deliver 100% instead of just getting across the 85%-is-good-enough line.

And as we get more and more advanced… it seems that I keep finding human errors are even more annoying and frequent.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com