30 July 2007

NET12 Bank tellers and technology

One of our NET12 unit readings is the Langdon Winner paper Who will we be in Cyberspace? which expresses reservations on the changes wrought on society as new forms of technology are adopted. He specifically mentions traditional roles such as bank teller and teacher disappearing, which made me recall the changes I’d observed during my time in the banking industry.

I posted this story in the student discussion area, and thought I would put it here too.

I worked for one of the “big four” banks for several years from the late ‘80s and through the ‘90s, so I was fortunate to see what it was like before and after the old mainframe terminals and paper reports were replaced with PCs and GUI, before and after telephone banking and internet banking came into existence. By that time ATMs had been around for a few years, and I recall an old highschool teacher of mine steadfastly refused to use ATMs because, sharing Winner’s fears, he declared it put bank tellers out of jobs!

The first PCs in bank branches appeared in the managerial departments, and it was the death knell as far as the managerial staff were concerned. The traditional role of bank manager, who knew everything about their customers and made important credit decisions based on their local knowledge, faded out of existence as the content of customer files became digitised and decisions became centralised.

A new breed of bank manager emerged, the locally respected financial authoritarian was replaced by an anonymous salesperson who, with a swathe of new financial products (thanks to various legislative changes) had high sales targets and high expectations of the branch staff.

The branch staff were transformed from the operational role of performing the bank’s functions, to a primarily sales role. Tellers were expected to flog products as they counted coin. Where monthly sales targets were consistently not met, decisions were made about the viability of keeping the branch open. The local bank branch was transformed from an institution to a MacDonald’s franchise – a “fast-finance” outlet. Staffers who didn’t like the new sales regime of the branches looked to the new operations centres, or left the bank altogether.

I was one of those who moved into an operations centre. These were shrinking too, they began as regional centres, by the time I worked in one it was a single state centre based in each capital city. By the time I left the bank, the state centre was about to be further rationalised into a national centre based in Melbourne, the number of bank branches had been severely reduced and uptake by customers of phone and internet banking was huge.

Some time after leaving the bank I switched my accounts to one of the community based banks that have sprung up in recent years. These seem to be filling the void left by the closure of the other bank branches. Even so, it is pretty rare that I venture into my local branch. I much prefer the convenience of internet banking, when I think of “bank” these days I tend to picture a web site rather than a building! I sometimes think about my old highschool teacher who hated ATMs, and wonder what his take on all the changes might be.

26 July 2007

NET12 Informing ourselves to death

Amidst acclamations of the wonders of the computing age, an academic named Neil Postman gave a lecture in 1990 to a group of Stuttgart computer scientists about the pitfalls of computers. Computers, he says are about information. And no amount of information causes or prevents things from happening to us.

The computer is, in a sense, a magnificent toy that distracts us from facing what we most needed to confront – spiritual emptiness, knowledge of ourselves, usable conceptions of the past and future.

The problem, says Postman is the message all this information leads us to believe. That all the information, and management of information will lead to a solution to our problems.

Imagine what might be accomplished if this talent and energy were turned to philosophy, to theology, to the arts, to imaginative literature or to education? Who knows what we could learn from such people – perhaps why there are wars, and hunger, and homelessness and mental illness and anger.

He finishes off with some sage quotes from philosophers, and summarises:

It is all the same: There is no escaping from ourselves. The human dilemma is as it has always been, and we solve nothing fundamental by cloaking ourselves in technological glory.

An interesting point of view, you get tired of hearing about the miracle of computers and the information age. Although, I do wonder what reception this paper received at that Stuttgart conference.

Postman’s paper at eff.org

NET12 Some play, some pay

I’m no gamer so this seems incredible to me, but there is a demand for people to play multiplayer online role-playing games on behalf of others who don’t have the time. The idea is to build status and “experience points” for their game character without the hard slog, by paying someone else to do it.

The Gamer Revolution documentary profiles a busy mother who outsourced her game character to a company in Rumania. She chose the level she wanted to be at, paid her money, and the company logged into her account and played the game around the clock to build up her character’s experience level.

It’s called “power-levelling” and one of the comments from the doco is that it is creating a new time economy for poorer countries to capitalise on the faster-paced lifestyles of Western societies. However it creates certain issues with the gaming companies, who say the practice is a security risk and against their terms of service; and the other players themselves, who view it as a weak move on the part of the player who pays someone else to “level” their character.

In the end, isn’t playing games all about having fun? these people are taking it wa-aay too seriously.

External links

10 July 2007

NED11 Fun with Gliffy

Gliffy is an online diagramming tool, I thought I'd give it a try for the flowchart in my web site design document. You can sign up for a free account, which allows you to store up to five diagrams and you can print or export them (with Gliffy logo).

Gliffy screenprint
It was really easy to use, although it helped to have ideas down on paper beforehand. In this web site flowchart I've shown page hierarchy levels, and used colour to group the pages according to purpose. The hardest part was showing the navigation. The sub-level pages can only be reached via their parent page, but they allow navigation to the upper levels. See I can't even explain it well. Maybe I'm just thinking too hard about it.

5 July 2007

NED11 First Assignment

...is due next Friday the 13th. Hope this isn't an omen!

We have to prepare a blueprint document containing a "comprehensive analysis and visual depiction of a World Wide Web site". I've created a few web sites over the years but this level of planning is novel for me - now I know where I've been going wrong all this time!

We base the web site on a topic of our own choosing. I've been mulling over this and it is a toss up between re-creating the old "Bunch of Leunig" site I did way back in 1997 (about cartoonist Michael Leunig), or creating a site for the local Chamber of Commerce group (who have asked me to do one for them anyway).

UPDATE: Well I finished and handed it in on time! My topic ended up as a combination of the two - based on a Chamber of Commerce web site from the fictional town of "Curly Flat" (borrowed from Leunig).

The toughest part was trying to work out the best way to create the darn wireframes. I have Illustrator, I just don't know how to use it yet! haven't had time to play around with it. I ended up creating the wireframe in HTML with Dreamweaver, after reading Julie Stanford's article on the subject. I did a quick tables based layout, which served the purpose of this assignment. For my later assignment I shall have to recreate the site in a divs based layout (without Dreamweaver - we aren't allowed to use it).