Subliminal Messages from the Bank

This post is an aside, and just something else I came across recently. Through an email promoting online bill pay from my bank, I arrived at this screen, a harmless example of how a hypothetical user’s home screen may appear:

US Bank Debt

Note that in this pleasant screenshot touting some features of the bank, the hapless customer is nearly $2,000 in the hole! (Never mind that $12,000 is inaccessible in a CD). If this doesn’t underline the subtle yet pervasive messages in our culture that living in debt to a large corporation is normal and good, I don’t know what else would. Of course they wouldn’t show a user who has exceedingly more money in checking and savings than he owes – that would undermine their whole purpose as a bank, which is not to serve the customer and encourage financial responsibility, but to squeeze ever more interest payments out of him through encouraging living under a never-ending burden of debt. Regardless of whether our unassuming example customer is living beyond his means or just struggling to get ahead, US Bank is more than happy to help him stay there.

Take notice of the manipulative messages (particularly from companies that peddle debt) as you go about your week. If you’re anything like me, they may start to make you wonder who is expected to serve whom in such a relationship, and it may make you start to get a little angry. Nobody likes to be exploited, right?

Analyzing the Christian Duty of Work – Part 1

This post is something that has been swimming in my head for a couple of months, probably. It may even have its roots back to a period of deep questioning I had in 2007, but recent events have brought it to the forefront of my attention once again. This is much more an exploratory essay arising questions than it is some sort of definitive thesis claiming to have answers. Answers have I none on this topic, so I throw it out into the community to get some perspective, conversation, and opinion on the matter (hopefully). I think it was Rob Bell who wrote in one of his books about the isolated academic study of the Bible being completely against the grain of how Christians originally struggled with scripture. He pointed out that certainly in the first century (and for hundreds of years later), the only way anyone had access to the Word of God was to gather and hear it read aloud. Then the community in attendance would talk about what it meant and discuss together the ramifications for their lives. This isn’t to say that isolated reading has no value, but that perhaps the best understanding can come from looking at these things together. So…

Growing up as a middle-class American, the topics of work, wealth, and giving in relation to faith were clear cut and simple. A good person works hard, provides for himself, and gives to the church and other charitable organizations. Through college and now living on my own, however, the challenging questions which have arisen have made me wonder. On the one hand is the radical message of Jesus to sell all you have and give to the poor, and on the other hand the Protestant Work Ethic and writings of the apostles encouraging a model where responsibility for self is at the core. At the center of this topic (in my struggle, anyway) is the question of giving, and particularly from one Christian to another.

In a fashion typical of his radical message, Jesus tells us, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” (Luke 6:30). That sounds pretty straight-forward, if not entirely easy to live out. If someone asks me for something, I am to give it to them. But if I were a Christian in the young church in Thessalonica, I would have been told by the apostle Paul, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thess 3:10). So what do I do, then, if a fellow able-bodied Christian doesn’t feel compelled to actively seek employment to provide for himself and asks me for money? Surely I will have mercy on my brother if he is starving and give him something initially, as James instructs us. “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16). But if this becomes an exhibited pattern, how does that speak to Paul’s harsh words to Timothy, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8)? The sobering parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25) notes precisely that when we give to the hungry, we are giving to Christ. So should I take that mindset and keep giving to my brother? Or should I point him to the same passage and note that he, too, ought to be gainfully employed and giving to others regardless of his income level? These are not easy questions.

The established pattern seems to be that Christians are to do everything in their power to provide for their own physical needs, and also those who cannot provide for themselves. “Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (1 Thess 2:9). Even what we would consider full-time missionaries engaged in labor to make a living instead of counting on the generosity of others. But this seems to contrast with Jesus sending out his disciples where he commands, “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts” (Mark 6:8). They did the exact opposite of Paul and his traveling companions, relying completely on handouts from those along the way. Are the commands found in scripture conditional or relative to one’s situation? Is it a larger act of faith to take nothing with you, or is it a shame to the name of Christ to expect others to take care of you (whether in a specific evangelistic endeavor or everyday life)?

Despite the advice sprinkled throughout the apostolic letters to the early church, the radical way of Jesus still tugs on my heart. Should I give generously even when it makes no sense, and I may in fact be enabling another believer to avoid his duty to work and provide for others? Is this an example of crazy love that would make the world stop and take notice of a drastically different lifestyle? I will continue this questioning and exploration in another entry, but for now I would love to hear anyone else’s perspective on the issue as it stands so far.

Usability Opportunity #1

This post kicks off what will be a sporadic series of entries detailing situations I come across in real life which may be described as “usability opportunities.” I would describe them as “usability fails,” but I like to put a positive spin on it. There’s always room for improvement. They may or may not be technology-related, but a colleague at work has helped me to see the world in terms of usability and how, despite all our great advances in technology, it’s not always apparent how to make something easy to use. Without further adieu…

Usability Opportunity #1 – Parking Garage Entrapment

Last night some friends and I went downtown for a free art gallery crawl. As is often the case with downtown Nashville, reasonably-priced parking is hard to come by. We ended up parking in the garage under the courthouse for $3, and we were on our merry way. When we paid to park, we were given a ticket like the one pictured below.

Ticket

We had our fun then headed back to the parking garage. Upon attempting to leave, we saw that the guy in the booth was now gone. So how were we supposed to get out? Perhaps the gate would open if we got close enough? Nope. Is there somewhere to swipe the ticket we were given? No. Only a couple sensors obviously meant for waving a key fob. So we turned around and went to another exit, at which a sign informed us we needed to go back to the one with no attendant. Alright…

So we sat by the gate and waited for the guy to come back, figuring he’d have to open the gate for us from inside the little booth. Five minutes later we were contemplating trying to get into the booth and open the gate ourselves. We drove up into the lane next to the booth again to hatch our plot, at which point a friend said, “Hey there’s a call button on that thing.” So I pressed a couple times, and there was no response. Just as I was contemplating more or less breaking into the booth to free us from this horrendous trap caused by a parking garage attendant who had left his post, a security guard walked up from behind, apparently alerted by the call box.

“Having problems getting out? Did you put the ticket in the box?”

“Box?” I replied. He motioned to a container below and to the right of the fob sensors. “You mean the trash can?”

He kindly took the ticket and stuck it into a container much like the one pictured below in that it had no markings whatsoever, only a slot on top.

Ticket Box

Magically, the gate opened, and we were free to go. There were no signs instructing that’s what should be done. Not even an “insert ticket here” inconspicuously stuck on top of the repository which was below and to the right of all the other sensors obviously meant to trip the gate. I recommend to Metro government that if they’re going to have a completely non-sensical interface to activate the gate in their parking garage, they may at least have some text to tell people the steps to take to achieve their end goal: getting out of that creepy underground place. So, the next time you are stuck somewhere, try putting something in a trash can; you may be freed.