Floppy Disk Sings: I’m Big In Japan

The other day, a medical office needed my insurance card. I asked them where to e-mail it and they acted like I had offered them human flesh as an appetizer. “We don’t have e-mail! You have to bring it to us in person!” They finally admitted that they could take a fax and I then had to go figure out how to get a free one page fax sent over the Internet. Keep in mind, that I live in the fourth largest city in the United States — firmly in the top 100 largest cities in the world. I’m not out in the wilderness dealing with a country doctor.

I understand HIPAA and other legal and regulatory concerns probably inhibit them from taking e-mail, but other doctors and health care providers have apparently figured it out. But it turns out that the more regulations are involved in something, the more behind-the-times it is likely to be.

Case in Point

Photo by [S Migaj] via Pexels
I was recently reading that in Japan, government mandates means that people have to submit official documents on paper or using floppy disks or CDROMs. But nothing else. You can’t just upload your papers on the Internet. They are trying to change that, but in this day when most computers don’t have floppy drives and many no longer have optical drives, it seems strange you would insist on those formats.

But it isn’t just Japan. The article points out that South Korea just stopped using ActiveX controls on official websites. In China, if you hold on to a company’s “chops” — think of a rubber stamp that is an official signature — you can control the company even if you’ve been fired.

But, surely, not in the U.S., right? You might be surprised. Do you wonder why the IRS is behind on tax form processing? Sure, COVID-19 is the official reason. But the Washington Post recently did a look at how the agency handles tax forms. Stacks and stacks of paper are everywhere — even in the cafeteria. There’s no optical character recognition. A human being enters in all the data by hand. No kidding.

Why, Oh Why?

So why are we in this state of affairs? Governments move slowly, of course. I’m sure no one want to pay for the IRS or the Japanese government to upgrade their systems. Yet, you can imagine the cost savings if you had more electronic documents and OCR instead of outdated manual systems with antiquated equipment.

You might argue that people don’t know what’s possible, but I doubt that’s true today. We live in a world where even ordinary people use their smartphones to deposit checks and scan documents. You can’t tell me that no one in these organizations has even moderate computer literacy.

Then there’s fear coupled with misunderstanding. I used to have major companies call me to place orders for things and when you told them they could order with a credit card they would act about as shocked as the medical office staff. They were not going to put their super special credit card on the bad old Internet, no way! So they would read the number to a stranger on an insecure phone line and then what would I do? Type it into the order system on the Internet.

Why is this better than digital? (via Pixabay)

I joined a company a few years ago that was just about to roll out an electronic signature system. They were very proud of it and had a meeting to explain how wonderful it was. I couldn’t see how people were being authenticated, though, so I asked an inconvenient question. The premise was that if Alice got an e-mail for her signature, there would be a link in it and clicking it would sign the document. I asked what happens if I get into Alice’s e-mail. They assured me that wasn’t a problem.

I wasn’t satisfied. I said, “How does that work?” They couldn’t explain it to me. So I said, “So can you send an e-mail to sign something to the CIO? I want her to forward it to me and if I can’t sign it then I’ll go figure out why and I’ll leave you alone. ” Ten minutes later, I had signed the CIO’s name to something and the system was back at the drawing board.

It Can Be Better

But the point is this: people think that electronic documents are somehow insecure or bad. But they don’t have to be. There are many ways that you can authenticate people — digital certificates, a PIN code, and probably 143 more ways that I can’t think of. But just proving you have a link in an e-mail isn’t sufficient. That’s why banks often ask you questions about things they can find out about you like which car did you own or which address have you had in the past. Sure, someone highly motivated can figure that out, but it stops all but the most dedicated adversary.

I think our community might be a step ahead of most people in this area. We tend to trust digital documents. The days of giant catalogs and databook arriving in the mail are over, for better or worse. You are reading this on some sort of screen and not in a glossy four-color magazine. Most of us know how to send encrypted e-mails.

But we are the minority by a long shot. Try exchanging an encrypted e-mail with practically anyone. Find three non-technical people at your work who have a digital certificate. Try authorizing someone to get into a safety deposit box or close a real estate deal with no physical papers. Today, you probably can’t do any of those things.

I have a feeling some countries are better at this than others. How’s where you live?

66 thoughts on “Floppy Disk Sings: I’m Big In Japan

  1. So so. Around here, one of the problems with certificates is that they expire. Surely some people will insist that is necessary, but there could be a way to just renew one online, instead of having to go to the entire hassle of going someplace in person, with all the documents , to get another done. People end up doing that, but it is not an easy task for Old Joe from the bar.

    About the IRS : here we can send the declarations through online software. Reduces their work a lot, since they will only need to hand process the paper forms from a fraction of users.

    1. Wait… you’re telling me it’s STILL common to use cheques (or “checks”, if you must) in the USA? I was there in 2000 and was shocked that at the time EFTPOS was relativley unheard of, people were still buying groceries with cheques, and you had to drive to “your branch” if you wanted to use the bank. These were all things that Australia had largely disposed of by the early 1980s! Today if you try to pass a personal cheque here people will generally refuse to accept it and assume you’re trying on some out-of-date scam. I did get a teller’s cheque in the mail a few weeks ago from an insurance company who’d overcharged me… mostly because they no longer had my bank details… but I hadn’t seen one of those in years and it was incredibly inconvenient because I had to find an actual branch of my bank and drive there. I don’t even carry cash here!

      I was shocked at the time to see how backward and slow to adopt technology the so called “leader of the free world” was compared to us… and I see nothing’s changed. And then realise that cities like Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur and even Guangzhou make even Australia look backward in this regard.

      Still it could be worse… when I flew into Hanoi a few years ago the they were still using typewriters and carbon paper. It’s a bit sad when you have to compare the USA to a third world country like Vietnam to make it look good though.

      1. People in US do not want a fully digital financial system, they enjoy the anonymity of cash. With things like Zelle, checks are less common hbut still exist because of the limits of apps like Zelle and frankly because the older generation refuse to learn new technology (I still see people pull out their check book at the grocery store, and of course they wait until the last item is rung before even pulling it out, meanwhile i have tapped and paid by the time the third item has been rang). I work at a very large defense contractor who still has an entire generation of employees that can’t instill their own software or tell me the difference between a desktop app or a web app.
        The older generation doesn’t understand tech and thus doesn’t trust it, and even my generation still has a healthy distrust of anything that can be tracked. America will be the last country on Earth to go cashless, and I dread the day.

      2. You probably didn’t have to find an actual branch of your bank. Australia Post does Bank@Post for most banks, and can deposit cheques directly to your bank account (and somehow faster than the bank most of the time, too).

  2. HIPPA does not actually prohibit the use of email for transmitting medical records. Doctors offices have absorbed an urban legend to the effect that HIPPA makes email impossible, but if you are familiar with the actual law it has no such prohibition, either in a practical or technical sense. Try convincing a medical office of this, though — it’s absolutely impossible, partially because they’re insanely risk averse.

    1. Yeah clearly some medical offices have figured it out or more likely paid some third party to do it for them. I’m sure there’s some standard for how the records are handled etc and audits but it’s not undoable for sure.

    2. It is quite possible that it is not the Medical Office, but their insurance company. I have that in a number of case the issue was not the tech or the user, but that the user’s insurance company had specific wording that prohibited certain mechanisms.

    3. Just set up a whole network and computers for a new medical practice. They wanted a fax solution but not a fax phone line (their servers are all in Azure and everything was VoIP and hard to convert to an analog fax machine).

      So we just signed them up for HelloFax. Incoming faxes end up in their OneDrive folder and email, outgoing faxes are sent as attachments to an email message. It’s *so* easy and works perfectly.

      1. @Rob said: “So we just signed them up for HelloFax. Incoming faxes end up in their OneDrive folder…”

        You should not need the cost, complexity, and the potential security risk of the HelloFax layer to handle incoming faxes, you already have VoIP. Undoubtedly your VoIP switch service provider can already receive faxes because they support ITU-T Rec T.38 fax relay.[1][2] As an account holder you simply need to enable T.38 and provision it. For example [3] explains how the CALLCentric VoIP switch provider handles fax. When a fax comes in it is automatically converted to a .pdf and attached to an email which is sent end-to-end encrypted to whomever you specify. Or the fax recipient can login and download or delete the .pdf. Fax .pdfs can be deleted just like voice mails too.

        * References:

        1. T.38


        2. ITU-T Rec T.38 Procedures for real-time Group 3 facsimile communication over IP networks


        3. CALLCentric FAQ – Faxing

  3. The reality of “modern” fax transmission is far worse than even this story portends. Most business fax transmissions are handled by email gateways, where you email the document to a fax service, which then transmits the fax to another fax service which then attaches the fax back to an email to send to the recipient.

    1. i never understood the luster of internet-fax;
      if it goes through the internet then you loose all of the advantages of fax and are left with all the disadvantages of both fax AND email.

      i do not like email but it sure beats having my info (legally) recorded stored and shared with a third-party without my knowlege or concent, whats worse, they are getting paid TWICE for it! once by user-fees, and a second time from the “unauthorized” sale of said document.

      i often do my research to find out if a “fax-number” is actually an analog fax number or not.
      if its real i send it via fax, if not i go for any-other option.

      with a traditional fax you know 100% when it was sent AND recieved, instead of having one message delayed 2 mins and another delayed 12 hours, makes people like me seem like a lazy liar, and i dont like that.

      with plain email they get an accurate time-stamp to show when it was authored/sent so that it is clear WHY there was such a huge delay; i’d rather be the guy that “the email system does not like” … instead of the guy that “must have forgotten to send it and sent it from home later that night using a false caller-id because he is a dishonest person thats probably stealing from us”

  4. “You have to bring it to us in person!” They finally admitted that they could take a fax and I then had to go figure out how to get a free one page fax sent over the Internet. ”

    My Voip provider provides faxing with a number. Did that instead of dealing with the same headache you did.

    “But the point is this: people think that electronic documents are somehow insecure or bad. But they don’t have to be. ”

    HaD has certainly done a lot of stories where security has failed in some way. The internet has made both the act easier to do, and easier to get away with with little consequences to the bad guys. Paper, and faxing one has to work much harder at it, or be a nation-state.

    1. ^This. Income Tax db/maintenance awarded to a US company, in violation of federal law (priviledged/personal/financial data crossing a border), but determined not to be by some sideways card-carrying ambulance-chaser/party mandarin whose ‘advice’ to the back room is “It’s OK b/c I say so”.
      Federal data breaches at said contractor as well as the federal government data itself and the obligatory response of “create some other problem for the media” as a distraction to get it out of the news cycle as fast as possible…
      E2E Encryption? Any Encryption? LMFAO. Not the good citizen’s data. Only the sociopaths that surface for election every cycle. Their data/info? Probably on punch cards carried by handcuffed briefcases to that ol’ reliable pdp11 in the basement.

      Now if you or I behaved like that….we’d be digging roads in the artic during the winter with spoons.

  5. “Then there’s fear coupled with misunderstanding. I used to have major companies call me to place orders for things and when you told them they could order with a credit card they would act about as shocked as the medical office staff. They were not going to put their super special credit card on the bad old Internet, no way! So they would read the number to a stranger on an insecure phone line and then what would I do? Type it into the order system on the Internet.”

    I hang with some CPAs from time to time, and from their (oh so thrilling) “war stories” I feel like I’ve got a handle on the real problem with credit cards as far as most companies are concerned… Accounting systems, some procedures of which are legally mandated for fraud prevention, document things in a vendor/order or customer/order fashion, and purchases may be posted to one of a number of internal accounts inside the company, according to whether it’s production material, R&D supplies, non-asset office supplies etcetera and so forth…. and this division is necessary and everything has to be tracked because there are a bunch of different tax treatments and legal requirements. What they want to do is issue a trackable order from their system, get an invoice and process it through the system posting it to the right accounts. CCs break this with their “one big pool of money” and cryptic short string statement lines, which you might laugh at as being a trivial problem when you eyeball reconcile your personal 10 monthly purchases, but it becomes a tracking and accountability nightmare very quickly with more than a page worth. It can be sorted out… but instead of being a 6 step process being done by the machine of in place accounting systems, it needs probably 10-12 manual steps with internally generated documentation, rather than the businesslike invoice from the external supplier, and auditors always think it looks suss, because if you were defrauding the company, you’d also do it like this.

    So yah, major companies, that is anyone subject to rigorous accounting requirements, do not like paying by CC.

    1. Well, actually, some credit cards are made to categorize expenses and are often called purchasing cards instead of credit cards for businesses. So you can actually make it easier. However, the point here wasn’t that they didn’t have a credit card or that they didn’t want to use it for their own convenience. It was that they didn’t want it transmitted over the internet even though that’s exactly what happens to it eventually anyway.

      1. It is hard to evaluate in a timely fashion how secure a given site’s payment handling system is.

        A lot of them have the mentality that, “I’m only taking $30 orders, so I only have to stop the bottomfeeder script kiddies who’d steal $30”. Or call it the “I’m not making enough to protect it as if there were millions at stake” problem, when any few hundred cards could quite well be a million dollar prize.

        I am cautious about using my CC online from a rational fear of how stupid humans are when they’re taking care of something worth only a few dollars to them but thousands to somebody else. Something like 1 in 10 major companies have a credit card breach yearly… so use it willy nilly for all I care, 50 different vendors a year, you’ll only need your card replaced 5 times, or just put up with it and get robbed blind.

        1. Precisely. It’s an issue of trust – and not knowing whether that particular site is legitimate or compromised. When you get someone on the phone, and you’ve probably talked to the person before, you know it’s probably going to the right place instead of some phony call center in Nigeria. If it does, you hang up. If they sound like they don’t know what they’re talking about, you hang up.

          I was ordering something online from a place that I know many people have used without issue, and the payment processor looked like it was the one I had used in the past, but when the dealings started with the payment processor asking for my social security number to “sign in” to the system, I concluded that I don’t need the item that much. With that information and my credit card details, they could have impersonated me anywhere.

          1. privacy.com (if I remember correctly) has taken the good idea of issuing credit card numbers that you can limit to a dollar value per month (say $50 for Xfinity prepaid), and they can’t go beyond that. Say it’s a gym membership, and you can’t find the “I quit” button or phone number, you can cancel that one number without affecting the rest of your credit card account. Want to buy something from EBAY, but don’t know if you can trust the seller? You can create a one seller card number or a one-time value limited card number. If they try to take that number to Home Depot to buy some power tools, it won’t work there.
            I can’t tell you why I haven’t signed up.

    2. This is also why companies have approved supplier lists. They only want to deal with stable concerns who likewise have rigorous and legally compliant accounting systems in place, not pissant little one man concerns who are like “Invoice, WTF is that? LOL just put it on a credit card dude.”

      1. Well I was very proud of a German company I had to deal with when I worked for a big multinational. We need $400 worth of parts for a one shot project. Our purchasing sent then 80 pages of terms and conditions so they sent it back and said if you want the parts fine. Or not. But we aren’t signing these without a lawyer and we aren’t paying a lawyer 8000 euro to review these. Bravo!

          1. We just buy whatever under couple hundred dollars and put the receipts through personal expenses / travel expenses. If they don’t get approved and paid, but the item is already consumed or cannot be returned, then someone in middle management will suddenly “need” something of equal value on company expense.

  6. The Singapore government gets everyone to use digital documents for pretty much everything. Every resident gets a digital signing app for their phone (or one of those wonderful code generating cards to cover edge cases where someone doesn’t have a phone) and the system manages the certificates etc. in the background. I don’t know what my certificates are, but the system works.

    Most government transactions no longer require physical paper.

    That said, the Singapore IRAS (their IRS) benefits from a vastly simpler tax code. The time to file taxes for the average Singaporean is somewhere around 10 minutes. But so it goes when the marginal tax rate tops out at a headspin inducing 17%.

  7. And Estonia was the first country to make digital identities available for everyone, even people who aren’t Estonia. Their ID card includes signing keys, and conveniently arrives with a USB card reader to further transactions. Between Estonia and Singapore the Estonian system is far more flexible, but the Singapore one is far easier for the end user.

    If I had to pick, I’d like the two countries to mix their systems so we could do both.

    1. There are some catch-22 cases though, where you can’t get access to your digital documentation if you can’t get online, and you can’t get online if you don’t have access to your digital documentation. For example, if the code widget gets lost or runs out of battery and has to be replaced – how do you prove your identity to the issuer without valid ID?

      Recently my bank started requiring new digital ID or the account would be suspended. Trouble is, the bank serves as a digital identity processor and would no longer confirm my ID without a valid digital ID, so I could not apply for the new digitally compliant social security card that they required. I had to have new passport photos taken and physically go to the police station to be identified, answer the 20 questions like what’s your mother’s birthday, apply for the card there, then fetch the card in person from the police, and finally I just had to send a picture of that card to the bank so they would believe I have it.

      In the end, what proves my identity is still just a stupid piece of laminated cardboard.

  8. My A-number 1 beef with my medical provider is their insistence on “signature boxes” where I am repeatedly asked to “sign” documents that I can’t see. Besides not having a display that a patient could read, somehow I can never get across that just because there is a document on their screen and my signature shows up on that one as I scribble, it doesn’t mean that my signature couldn’t be applied to any number of other documents without my consent.

    I try to not be a prick about it but I do object every time and I always ask to review documents before signing and a request copy of what I have signed.

  9. You should emigrate to Germany where our Gouverment is talking for 20years about insurance card and it is still not working. Hm..at least everybody has a cheap insurance and I never pay anything to my doctor. :)

    And if you think of your 143 way do indenty, which one will work with my old mother and her older doctor?


  10. “But just proving you have a link in an e-mail isn’t sufficient.”

    Except legally it is in many jurisdictions. That’s how online document signature systems work. And thousands of businesses use them for contracts. The onus is on you to prove that fraud occurred.

    1. Well that’s the problem. It is legally binding in many places but if I present you a driver’s license with the picture of a 70-year-old woman on it you’re probably going to guess it’s not me. Anybody can hijack my email and then sign documents for me. If you notice the banks don’t rely on this. They ask you a bunch of questions that presumably only you will know. Like I mentioned the post that isn’t foolproof either but it does require more than just hacking into my computer.

  11. I (and my wife) personally like ‘in person’. For just about everything including medical. To much stuff is transacted in the cloud rather than face to face. We even have to download the Fed/state forms, print our selves to do by hand. Used to be able to go pick up forms at your post office…. Our bank(s) would even like to eliminate paper statements as they now ‘charge’ for that service…. I’d rather get out and go down to a ‘electronics/computer parts’ store and browse … but no, got to shop on-line if you want anything…. Getting ‘Really’ impersonal. Its a weird world out there…

    1. They are. Many years ago I worked at a large “Document Company” and our engineers were building a new multi-function device. Management decided it had to be built around this new Microsoft system called “Microsoft At Work” (later Microsoft CE). When we received the disks we discovered every one was infected with a virus…

  12. I actually work for a hospital, and am in the process of getting them to upgrade their processes. We have one case were we’re spending a small fortune to walk a piece of paper across the street three times a day because people think that’s more secure than sending a file to a server. The world is a funny place.

  13. Here in the UK, government (well, most of it) has gone online in a huge way. There’s a genuine concern now though that some groups of people are becoming excluded from access to ‘normal’ life through not having the technology or know-how to connect to these services. Government here delights in removing paper and telephone services as soon as an electronic version becomes available.

    1. This is also the case in the Netherlands, things are getting more and more digital and everybody is expecting people to use it. It’s all so easy, but for my parent, who are in their 80’s, this is not as easy as everybody pretends it to be.

      My parent, for their entire life, were used to do things by telephone and face-to-face communication. Paper documents etc. it’s getting digital. So now they are expected to do everything over the internet, because it is so much easier… or at least that is what other people say. And for those other people (major companies) it might be easier, but for my parents it is very frustrating and also confusing as they are being forced too rapidly into something THAT ALSO CONSTANTLY CHANGES IT INTERFACE EVERY SIX MONTHS, but now do need as it is becoming the norm.

      In the past I’ve got a letter that told me to pay my taxes for the “sewer and trash”.
      Now I get an email, that tells me to go to a different website, to which I should login, so I can read the message.

      If my dentist sends me a extra large bill, which fortunately doesn’t happen that much, I need to login to some strange unknown website, then read the obscure instructions how to retrieve the PDF with the details, after logging in with my special account. This all takes me about 10 minutes of extra work and hours of frustrations. Just send me everything I need to know in the same message. Or send me some paper, like in the past. It all feels like it’s a discouraging policy to prevent people from reading what they are paying for. And if you ask why they do it like this, they tell me “very easy” and that it is for security and privacy reasons… First of all, it’s easy if you do it every day, which I do not, I’m pretty sure that it isn’t secure. And regarding privacy, what’s the big secret?

      My tv/telephone/internet provider, sends me my bills to an “inbox” I need to check by logging in to THEIR website, they could just send me an email with a PDF (which some companies do) but they don’t. Now I would not call that progress.

      Now what worries me even more, is that websites were designed to be used on big screens, with lot’s of room for info, are now cramped into silly narrow screen, so people can use it on their phone. My bank has a website, which has messed up it’s interface so badly that I’m looking at a screen which is mostly white-space. It may look nice on a phone, but I have a PC, so show me all the info, not just a few lines with hidden buttons (because everything is touchscreen now and buttons are considered to ugly so they are not looking like buttons anymore).

      So back to my parents… they are old, why should they change in the last years of their life. The age of technology is excluding elderly people from society in the name of efficiency that isn’t efficient at all. And ohh… if something goes wrong… your up shit creek because many companies do not publish their contact telephone number, so finding a way to speak a real person is difficult. As soon as you do get a person online, things return to normal though and customer service still does exist. Which gives me a bit of hope.

      So to make a long story a bit longer… technology is fine, but the way it is implemented is ludicrously counterintuitive, overly complex and very inconsistent, because every company does it completely different. Please, for those who still use paper, cherish it for as long as you can.

      1. The bit about the bills is especially frustrating. There’s now ten different places you have to check if you haven’t missed any payments. Even the post office now delivers your mail if they feel like it – sometimes after a full month – because they expect you to check the online phone app for incoming paper bills and a PDF copy.

        So now every day you have to go through this routine of checking all your email accounts, all the different apps for electricity, water, rent, etc.or if you go to the doctor/dentist you have to log into their systems with passwords you don’t remember to see your paperwork, and it’s just more time wasted for what used to be a letter through your mail slot in the morning.

    2. Yup, all tax returns in the UK will have to be submitted online soon. I’m not sure what that will cost in terms of accounting software. I’ve been happily using Open Office and MS Office 97 for the last 2 decades.

  14. Just want to remind everyone of the irony of HIPAA being the Health Insurance PORTABILITY and accountability act. It was intended to facilitate easy exchange of medical records without onerous security checks, etc. Oh the irony.

  15. Many years ago (6 or 7), we needed to send a document to the state welfare office. It didn’t need to go to the local office, so we couldn’t just deliver it by hand. The only option allowed was fax. This was maybe 2013 or 2014. Now, fax machines have _never_ been a normal household commodity, and lower income people (you know, the kind who might qualify for welfare) can’t always afford to pay some copy shop to send a fax for them. Further, even back then, copy shops with fax machines were becoming less common. I think we ended up asking our therapist to send the fax for us, because we just didn’t have access to a fax machine anywhere else. The whole thing was incredible stupid.

    So anyhow, after going through all of this, I emailed a local paper, explaining what hoops we had ended up having to jump through just to submit some welfare paperwork, because I figured “The government is way behind on technology” would be a good story. They disagreed. They explained that fax machines were ubiquitous, and there were plenty of places one could go to send a fax at a fairly low price. I was initially confused. Did they not understand that people on welfare _don’t have money_ for a “fairly low” price, otherwise _they wouldn’t need the welfare in the first place?_ It didn’t take me long to realize: Their response was self defense. _They_ are still using fax machines, and having someone with a low enough income to qualify for welfare telling them that their own technology is horribly outdated and that _even low income people have access to better technology_ was absolutely humiliating.

    It hasn’t been common in the history of the world that private citizens have better technology than businesses and governments, but that’s the world we find ourselves in now. Fax machines have never been very affordable for the average person, but cell phones that can take _high resolution, color pictures_ and transmit them _wirelessly_ to anyone, almost instantly are ubiquitous. And it’s not that businesses or governments _can’t_ keep up. If the lowest income people in this country can afford the technology, businesses and governments _definitely_ can. The problem is that governments and businesses are, on average, _run poorly._ They don’t recognize the value of the _massive_ efficiency gains that can be had using modern technology. All they see is the price tag, and they can’t see the savings or even additional revenue that can be gained. You want to reduce CO2 production levels? Convince businesses and governments to allow and even encourage working from home. In addition, operating costs will be reduced, reducing prices and tax burden. They won’t do it though, because they see as an expense that will decrease productivity. Laziness is also a problem I see a lot. Even when you show businesses the numbers, they find some excuse not to switch to modern technology, because it looks like too much _work,_ even though the numbers take labor into account. They make up security problems or other risks, even though the methods they are using are _far more prone_ to _much worse_ problems. Honestly, there’s an absurd amount of opportunity in business, for new businesses that are highly competitive right out of the gate, by embracing modern technology. It’s why internet businesses like Amazon and Netflix have driven so many brick and mortar stores into the ground.

    1. “Fax machines have never been very affordable for the average person, but cell phones that can take _high resolution, color pictures_ and transmit them _wirelessly_ to anyone, almost instantly are ubiquitous. ”

      I’ve set up fax machines in people’s homes, and other like places. More times than not it’s a used but functional piece of equipment. Heck, even my printer has the capability built-in (don’t have a land-line though). One of the reasons people still use them is they’re very easy to use, even for the 80+ crowd. E-mail? Not so much.

    2. Firstly, I understand your situation and hope you and your family are doing well. I do respectfully disagree with most of your points, however. At least now, and I’m assuming in the past (based on dealing with such things for years now), upgrading technology is horrifically expensive especially for public service programs. An analogy- someone (here, on HaD I think) was saying they bought their grandfather a new LED flashlight or something, and he said what’s wrong with the same one I’ve had since 1950? What I’m saying is that for businesses to use fax machines (and my hospital still does for a lot of reasons) isn’t because they are intentionally trying to disenfranchise you or any other need-based family. It’s because upgrading costs money, even a trivial amount, even peanuts, and for an already overstretched, understaffed department it just isn’t “worth it” because the fax still works well enough. Running a business, any business, often has razor thin margins and unless you are in a highly profitable area with tons of discretionary income, that isn’t laziness. That is livelihood. Without someone to put up the cash up front (who? the overstressed underpaid public servant?), you simply cannot tank a business out of existence *today*, no matter how promising improvements to efficiency etc are for the future. And even though it is trivial for you to “upgrade” yourself, if, say, the entire welfare department did it that means re-training 65 year old Cynthia who has been there for 30 years to use computers (I’ve literally had to show some people how to use a mouse), let alone Windows and a new electronic billing program etc. For that department that is massively behind already, do you really want them to get the entire staff up to speed for 6 months while literally nothing else gets done? My wife’s former boss, a not-too-old multi millionare, had her print his emails every day for him to read, he would write on them and have her type up replies. And that is a wealthy guy that can afford it- who do you suggest does that for an entire branch of government?
      Your point re: the public having access to more tech than business and governments, in general though, is spot on and quite interesting.

  16. Talking about using your smartphone to scan documents…

    Argentina recently implemented the digitization of all certificates, like born, marriage, death, etc.
    The way they implemented is that, when a document is requested, is searched in the file (physical paper document), scanned, uploaded to a goverment database and digitaly signed, then delivered thru a webpage to the citizen.

    The thing is, the method to scan the document , is leaved up to each local civil registry… and one mf from a small town where my dad was born, likes to “scan” the documents by taking a f-ing picture of the book where the certificate is stored. The pic is crooked, taked from far and half of it is unreadable. Still, was accepted as “legal” to the local goverment. But foreing goverments… they laugh at me when I gave that certificate to them.

    I have complain and still can’t get that certificate well scanned

  17. There was one government project I worked on that required a software update to be submitted on a particular magnetic tape format, but we discovered my company (a large fortune 500 company) had retired the last compatible tape drive six months prior. That tape format had been obsolete for over fifteen years at that point. Luckily the drive was still in storage, and we were able to get it pulled and put back online just so we could create and submit our new release.

    I e-file my U.S. tax returns and haven’t filed on paper for over 20 years. The IRS doesn’t print out my e-file forms and re-enter them by hand and according to Wikipedia, over 89% of tax returns were e-filed in 2018. However, many people still submit on paper because they’re not computer savvy or have complicated returns. I’m not surprised the IRS doesn’t OCR those paper returns because the IRS has been starved of funds by Congress for many years. Many U.S. government departments use slow, outdated, unsupported computers and software or are forced to go without because they can’t get the budget to modernize in the name of “efficient use of tax dollars.”

  18. “So they would read the number to a stranger on an insecure phone line and then what would I do? Type it into the order system on the Internet.”

    I get calls from people who want to tell me all their info over the phone to place an order instead of using my website. I tell them I’ll just enter it all into the same website. A few still insist on having me do it.

    If you ever deal with anything in the machine tool industry you may find that some of the older companies still FAX things internally between departments. Place an order over the phone and someone will have a printed form they fill out by hand, then they’ll FAX it over to the warehouse where it’ll get printed out to use as a pull sheet, then signed, FAXed back, printed out, scanned, then e-mailed to the customer who gets some big TIFF image or JPG that’s almost readable.

    1. I’ll make an analogy though. At your same machine shop, a customer could probably internally come up with approved design specifications get all that approved, generate a PO, contact the engineering department, have the “young gun” draw up an autocad part and electronic 3D model, generate G-code and put it on the CNC whatever it is. Or you could draw it on a napkin, give it to Old Gus and have a nice part in your hand by the end of the day. Both methods have their merits.

  19. In denmark we have had complete digital tax system for over a decade. The employer reports your py to the system so your tax is normally not a worry as its automatically computed and all you have to do is check the calculation (digitally) every april and then either receive or pay the difference in may.
    We use a government issued authentication called nem-id and now mit-id which is a heavily secured signature and onetime-code based system running off one-time-coded-on-paper or an app on your phone.
    It works great. It takes 1 minute for me to login, change my tax details and logout again.
    We use the same auth to logon to all the other government services, like hospital journals, wellfare checks and when we start our year long parental leave after giving birth to a child in our free hospitals, nursed by doctors educated in our free education system.

    Tax is a wonder. I enjoy paying it.

  20. In North Italy (Venezia, Milano, Torino to give a context) we are required to communicate with gov agencies via email or cryptographed and traced email (we name it PEC).
    Physicians and medical offices suggest using emails and/or digital documents platforms. COVID has given a boost to digital transformation for boomers as well.

  21. I was hoping this article would include theories on why people and businesses don’t adopt technology, or perhaps even offer solutions. Even the comments seem to only focus on adding examples, so I will add my thoughts. People do not like new things because:

    1. doing things the old way requires less effort NOW, which is more important to people than THE FUTURE
    2. people can’t clearly imagine the benefits of a new technology, so they have no motivation to use it. Somebody has to truly sell the idea to them – “it will save you time, money, it will be easier and more secure, and here is how using the final solution will look like. Isn’t it good and useful?”
    3. People do not know how much the initial setup will “cost” them, and they don’t know if they even have all the requirements and knowledge. How many hours? How many decisions? Which website? Do I need a computer or can I do it on my smartphone? How much information, such as social security number, do I need to prepare? How long will I have to wait to get confirmation? Solution: listed requirements and focused instructions how to setup the technology from a reputable source, such as the government
    4. bad experiences. every time people tried something new in the past, it ended up being way more complicated than they thought (relevant to #3). some people now have a true aversion to tech

    So, if I was the government and I wanted the people to be more tech literate, I would send out a leaflet every 2 months to every household on a specific topic, such as Digital Certificates – describing the benefits, requirements, instructions on how to set it up, and examples how to use it.

    1. Heya… I’ve worked in a state government department in Australia for more than 17 years. We were largely without computers when Instarted and we still are today, relying heavily on fax machines, hand written forms, and an internal mail service… though it’s true that the “higher ups” have access to computers, email, etc.

      To address your question of why it happens I can only offer you my insights… it’s partly “We’ve always done it this way”, and partly a combination of “The costs of upgrading & training are too great” and “We’re constrained by government policy that means we can’t use more cost efficient means and have to use expensive, government approved methods for un-named security reasons”. For instance, we’re not legally permitted to use commercial ISPs, we need to use the government’s “secure” network, which costs a fortune and whose performance is slow and unreliable.

      It used to annoy the hell out of me… now I’ve become resigned to the fact that I work for dinosaurs.

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