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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Great Vote Swap

A couple of days ago, my friend Andrea directed my attention to Anti-Harper Vote Swap Canada. It's a Facebook group that allows Canadians living in different federal ridings to trade votes, in an effort to prevent Conservative candidates from benefiting from vote-splitting.

In other words, hey, Liberal supporter in Toronto - the NDP has the best chance of keeping that seat out of the hands of the Tories. I'm an NDP supporter in BC, but in my riding the Liberal has the best chance of defeating the Tory candidate. Tell you what - I'll hold my nose and vote Liberal in my riding, if you'll hold your nose and vote NDP in your riding. We may not be happy with the MPs we get in our particular ridings, but hey, we'll be helping ensure that Harper doesn't get a majority.

If this kind of thing catches on, it could really subvert the first-past-the-post electoral system we have now - the one that enables parties with less than half the popular vote to form huge majority governments. Since we're not getting proportional representation anytime soon, it seems to me that this just might put some real power in the hands of the people and help stem the rising tide of voter apathy.

Unfortunately, I do not live in either of the two Alberta ridings in which this system could make any difference. But if you live in Edmonton Centre or Edmonton Strathcona, where the Tories have historically earned fewer votes than the left-of-centre parties combined...well, you might want to check it out.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Who Listens to the Listeners?

Whether you're ordering a pizza, fending off a telemarketer, or talking to your bank, odds are you've heard some variation of the following:

"This call may be recorded for training purposes or customer service."

My bank called last week - twice in one day, actually. I told the first caller that I wasn't interested in any product offered over the phone, and asked him to mail me the details. A different representative called a few hours later about the very same product, so I was already annoyed when she said the call was being recorded.

"I'm sorry, but I have a bit of a problem with that," I said. "Aside from concerns about my own privacy, I don't want to live in a world where my fellow citizens are monitored every minute of their working day. I don't think you should have to put up with that."

"Fine, sir, thank you very much," she said, and hung up.

I suppose I sounded like a bit of a crackpot, but my words were sincere. I can easily imagine corporate motives for recording calls; they want to have records in case of some kind of dispute, they want to have a record of employee misbehaviour, perhaps they really do use the recordings for training purposes.

As far as I know, the only reason companies even inform you that they're recording the call is because the law requires it. And so they dutifully follow the law, but if you indicate that you don't want to be recorded - poof! - the call's over.

So the citizen is trapped. You can order your pizza, and accept the invasion of your privacy, and accept the dehumanization of the employee whose every moment at work is being monitored. Or you can refuse on ethical and humanitarian grounds and go hungry, because apparently there's no option to use the service without being recorded.


Monitoring workers in call centres is just the tip of the iceberg. Many jobs require drug testing, even when your use or non-use of drugs has no impact on your ability to do the work. Others require invasive personality profiling. Other workplaces use monitoring software to log every keystroke and mouse movement. Forget about checking your bank balance on your coffee break, or taking a few minutes to compose a personal email. Forget the very human, very natural impulse to goof off from time to time.

We are building a world of diminishing trust.

The next time you're told that your call is being recorded, try asking this question:

"Will you still serve me if I refuse to be recorded?"

I'd like to know what they tell you.

Anybody listening?