07:21:08 pm on
Thursday 25 Jul 2024

The Mass Oops
David Simmonds

Like me, you probably clip articles out of the newspaper and, as you tidy your desk, reread them with bafflement. Here's one that got to me.

Under the heading "insurance", the headline read, "Aviva unit fires its entire staff by mistake." It turns out the investment arm of the U.K's second biggest insurance company had send an e-mail message dismissing its entire 1,300 staff members world-wide; telling them they were to turn over company property and keep company secrets secret. The message did end graciously, relatively speaking, by concluding, "I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and wish you all the best for the future."

Apparently, one employee was the target of the message. An apology arrived "fairly quickly," after the original message, according to a staff member

"Fairly quickly" covers some flexible territory. Was it quick enough to avoid an elderly bond trader in Berlin grabbing at his heart and keeling over? Was it just in time to prevent an investment analyst in New York from smashing his computer on to the floor? How many people got up from their desks and screamed at Aviva for its disloyalty after years of faithful service, and stormed out in disgust? The company had earlier announced that some 160 jobs were to be cut, and was just getting started. Just how quickly can you press an "unhurt" button after you've just hurt someone? There doesn't even seem to be one on my computer.

Nevertheless, quite apart from that, even the one employee for whom the letter was not a mistake was fired, herself, by email, reminded of his or her obligations of secrecy, and then kissed off with blatantly insincere thanks for a job not done well enough and best wishes for the future, so long as it did not involve Aviva. Doesn't anybody have the courage to let people go in the old-fashioned face-to-face way? Have they even stopped using George Clooney, like outplacement consultants? Have they forever abandoned the dividends to shareholders and executive bonuses as alternatives to staff addition and reduction at the drop of a hat?

I’ve read worse errors. A couple of years ago, the University of California at San Diego sent an e-mail to some 46,000 students offering acceptance at the university, but intended for 18,000 of them. Like Lucille Ball, they must have had to do some "s'plaining" to 28,000 angry would be students, and some fancy footwork to keep the all of the 18,000 they had wanted in the first place.

That's just an example of a 'mass' email mistake. We've all read a delicious story or two about the arrogant prig who got his comeuppance by having an email he authored re-circulated. As the Wall Street lawyer, who demanded his recently bereaved secretary pay for cleaning the ketchup stains off his suit, until she forwarded his demand to everyone else in the firm suggesting a collection to cover the cost?

In a perverse way, I'm glad the Aviva fiasco happened. If I receive an electronic bill, with a warning that I must pay it, immediately, surely I am now entitled to say, "Ah yes, but how do I know you are not from Aviva or UCalSanD? I shall await the retraction, correction or perhaps even the confirmation. I shall grant you a 48 hour reprieve, and then treat your letter as presumptively accurate."

Even then, of course, the whole thing could be accurate from the get go, but turn out to be a fraud in the nature of some spam, pfish, worm or virus or other sort of deadly industrial contaminant. So really, there's a case to here that one should ignore e-mail completely. This makes me ever so mad that Bell Canada, in the stated pursuit of the lofty goal of planetary stewardship, is now proposing to charge me $2.50 a month to send me my bill by mail.

Now, hold on a minute here. The next item in my pile is my car insurance bill. It’s the name, 'Aviva.' Maybe I don't really have car insurance at all. Maybe I do, but billed by mistake. That one computer mispress can allow me to believe anything I want to. Keep up the good work, Aviva!

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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