Sunday, January 11, 2009

State Department stupidity

Widespread computer illiteracy at the State Department recently brought their e-mail system to its knees:
A cable sent last week to all employees at the department's Washington headquarters and overseas missions warns of unspecified "disciplinary actions" for using the "reply to all" function on e-mail with large distribution lists.

The cable, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, was prompted by a major interruption in departmental e-mail caused by numerous diplomats hitting "reply all" to an errant message inadvertently addressed and copied to several thousand recipients.

[ ... ]

Officials said the storm started when some diplomats used the 'reply all' function to respond to a blank e-mail sent recently to many people on the department's global address list.

Most demanded to be removed from the list while others used 'reply all' to tell their co-workers, in often less than diplomatic language, to stop responding to the entire group, the officials said.

Some then compounded the problem by trying to recall their initial replies, which generated another round of messages to the group, they said.
Stupidity compounded by more stupidity. But this comes as no surprise to me, personally.

In 1995, right after I got off active duty with the Air Force and went back to being a reservist, the company I'd gone to work for was awarded a contract with the State Department to provide training on a new Windows-based e-mail application. Our statement of work clearly stated that a prerequisite to taking the class was knowledge of the Windows desktop environment.

Since I was the lucky one chosen to teach the classes, I showed up at Foggy Bottom for the first session - it was a one-day class, and our contract called for five of them to be delivered over the course of a week - to find that only about a third of the people in the class had ever used a computer. I could have been a dick about it and declared a "customer-induced delay" and walked out, but instead decided to improvise a one hour crash course in using Windows.

When I started to explain the concept of "point and click", one guy (I shit you not) picked up his mouse and, aiming it at the monitor, complained that his mouse wasn't working. I was one happy IT geek when that week was over because each day at least half the class was computer illiterate.

Anyway, I guess I should have spent a bit of time on e-mail etiquette. But the contract didn't call for it.

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