Thursday, August 20, 2015

Transparent to the User

A couple of months ago, my credit union sent me a new debit card, complete with its own microchip.

I continued to use it as before, sliding it in machines at the grocery, inserting and withdrawing it quickly at the ATM.

Then a couple of weeks ago at Target, their machine told me to insert the card into the chip reader – and kept my card until the transaction cleared. I was a bit nervous until it released my card.

Progress, I suppose, though I’m not sure my account number is any more secure than before, since most places haven’t instituted the chip-reading technology.

Then, on Sunday, I stopped by the local credit union to get some cash. I pushed the card in – and couldn’t pull it out! I fumbled through an attempt to get cash. The machine allowed everything up to the point of spitting out my money.

The message was typical techno-speak, but I did understand it couldn’t process the request. I breathed a sigh when that naughty ATM released its death grip on my card.

But it was Sunday. The bank was closed. I raced home and checked my account on the computer, fully expecting the balance to be zero.

Nope. No notes, no blocks, and a nice fat balance.

Thursday, I stopped in at the credit union. They were surprised that the machine had hung onto my card. The teller came out with me to see for herself. We tried several times, each time getting through all the questions, then being refused my money.

She called her IT department. They confirmed that a change had been implemented and the machine would hold the card. They didn’t know about the refusal to disperse funds. How had this gone four days without anyone noticing?

It reminded me of an incident years ago, in my mainframe-nerd days, when system upgrades required extensive planning and users were notified beforehand.

Tom, the system programmer in charge of one of those upgrades, sent a memo stating, “the xyz.99 upgrade should be transparent to the user.”

Unfortunately, that upgrade took weeks to fully implement. Not transparent to anyone! Tom never lived it down.

But now, in this advanced technological age, are we expected to roll with each new process with no forewarning? Are we so inured to technological gliches that we don’t complain? I’m not sure that’s progress.