Posted by: Ciaran | July 19, 2010

This is not an automated post – honest

We live, as people never tire of telling us, in a ‘digital age‘. Technology is breaking down frontiers, the world is getting smaller, we’re all connected, and the cliché continues to thrive as a literary device.

But for all the bombast – and the bullshit – there are the occasional little nuggets of infuriating brilliance which technology throws up. Take today, for example.

The automated reply is fairly staple in this new digital era, but normally we’re fairly open about it. “I’m away from the office today,” we learn of colleagues and contacts as emails bounce back to us. Delivery failure reports. Automatic receipts. I have one email account that is almost exclusively filled with automated emails, as I seldom use it for personal contacts anymore.

Automated emails which pretend they are not automated, though, are quite a different kettle of fish. This morning I fired off a round of emails to all 22 of the local councils in Wales – and in my email I asked not just for an acknowledgement, which I have come to expect, but a specific detail in that acknowledgement.

True to form, most came back with a bog-standard auto-reply along the lines of: ‘Thank you for your request, it is important to us etc.’ Some, to their credit, followed this up with a further email of acknowledgement, and the detail I had requested. Some left out the computer-generated guff, and acknowledged personally. Others did not reply at all.

But a select couple, who I will resist the temptation to name, tried to make me feel all special and loved by sending automated responses and disguising them as real replies.

The first began: ‘Thank you for your recent request for information held by [this council].   For your information, this is not an automatically generated response.’ It omitted the detail I had asked for, but I was – for a short while at least – fooled. Until, 10 minutes later, I got sent the exact same email but from a different person within that organisation. Whoops.

Then, this evening, I received a reply from a different authority. This one may have had some human input, as they had graciously managed a ‘Dear Mr Jones’ at the top. Again, I was deceived – until I spotted this at the bottom:

‘[council name]

(initials of person replying)’

I’ve got no problem in principle with auto-generated replies – just don’t try and mislead people.

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