One of the metrics for a successful field study is unsurprisingly, ensuring everyone returns home safely. For our recent Accra field study this was, alas, not the case. To put it bluntly, we were denied the opportunity to do so by UPS.
A colleague (pictured above) who was set to join us had his passport newly stamped with a Ghanaian visa ‘lost in transit’ by UPS. When it eventually arrived it did so with its covers missing rendering it useless. As he recounts: “Later that morning, I went back to the Consulate General of France in Los Angeles to void my current passport and apply for a new one. On close inspection, the vice-consul was surprised to see the cover missing considering the overall good condition of the pages and suggested that it might have been removed intentionally to make a fake passport. The vice-consul went on to describe how the French passport is constructed; the cover and pages are really thick and sturdy and are sewn together. It is nearly impossible to detach the cover without human intervention.”
The ability to track a person or thing is often mistaken for the ability to affect what happens to the tracked object. In the event of something out of the ordinary occurring the ability to track becomes a way for the consumer to narrow down where within UPS’s own network a digression (accidental damage? theft?) has occurred – a subtle variation on sousveillance. But just how common is the problem of passport loss? A quick search turned up this article by the Guardian/Observer newspaper from 2003 that refers to “11,733 (passports) lost over the past four years” by the Royal Mail. Useful things passports. In the wrong hands.
How might today’s scenario play out in our future perfect?
From a would-be thief’s point of view it should be easier to identify which packages contain valuable cargo by running a RFID scanner over the packages pulling out those that flag up passport ID’s. Give or take a shielded cover. And in the consumer’s corner a parcel sentinel that sits in the package collecting rich sensorial data and sending this directly to the receiver. Yeah, the passport will still get nicked. But at least you’ll know the aftershave/perfume of the thief.
Had my end-of-year work review last week. One of the objectives set at the beginning of the year, was to bring everyone in the team back safely all limbs intact. It doesn’t count if they never get to leave the country right?