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Jonathan Gramling
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Vol. 11   No. 8
APRIL 14, 2016
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UNIQUE HITS
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                      The Kafkaesque Internet
Before I launch into this issue’s column, I just want to pause for a moment to remember Mother Clara
Franklin, a scion of Mt. Baptist Church. I was supposed to interview Mother Franklin today for an article on
Mt. Zion’s 105th anniversary. But I got a call last night that Mother Franklin had passed away on Friday
night. From what I understand, Mother Franklin had been experiencing ill-health recently and now she
certainly is in a better place.

While I had few conversations with Mother Franklin over the years, she has been one of those people who
has been ever-present in the community, part of the “Greek choir” of my life. She was always present with a
warm smile and a kind word. My condolences go out to her daughter Linda and the rest of the family.  I
regret not having the time to sit down now to see the Mt. Zion history and community through her eyes.
Mother Franklin, may you rest in a well-deserved peace.

***

One of the books that had the biggest impact on me during my high school career during the 1960s was the
book The Trial by Franz Kafka written in 1915. It is a novel about a system, according to Wikipedia, where in
the process, “guilt is assumed, the bureaucracy running it is vast with many levels, and everything is
secret, from the charge, to the rules of the court, to the authority behind the courts — even the identity of the
judges at the higher levels.”

Sometimes we all live in a Kafkaesque world where things happen to us and we are powerless to do
anything about it. Many of us have had this experience, to some degree, when dealing with a governmental
bureaucracy. People often talk about Big Brother and the autocratic power that is exerted on us and we feel
that we have little due process to correct the problem or even to have a fair hearing of our grievance. The
smaller the cog we are in this giant bureaucracy, the less due process we have.

Well as privately-held and publically-traded organizations get larger and larger and increasingly have a
global reach, they exert more power over us as individuals and become larger and larger “bureaucracies”
that don’t respond to us. Especially we little people. Due process is an option that they can choose not to
provide, especially if it costs more money to provide that due process, perhaps a live human being who
can explain things to use and can suggest ways to solve our problems within their systems, like Internet
browsers and email systems. If it interferes with the maximization or profits and it is not statutorily
mandated, then chances are, it won’t be provided.

I have had frustrations with my email provider that I have felt rather Kafkaesque. Yahoo runs my email
system for The Capital City Hues, although we originally received that service through ATT, who in turn
entered into some kind of agreement with Yahoo and eventually Yahoo took over. I do a lot of emailing with
The Capital City Hues. I email over 1,000 notices about the latest issue hitting the stands and will send out
over 200 notices to potential advertisers with every issue.

Now I am very respectful with people’s email addresses. If they email me letting me know that they no long
want to receive emails from me, I immediately take them out of the system. If I get emails bouncing back to
me because the email address is no longer valid — the person no longer works there — I also take them
out of my system. The last thing I want to do is irritate people.
Nonetheless, someone at Yahoo or perhaps someone complained about me, but all of a sudden, I was
labeled a spammer by Yahoo.

Now, I can only send out 200 emails at a time — to people who have given me their email addresses. After
200, they start getting rejected and they bounce back to me with an error message that says “cannot send
message due to possible abuse.” I cannot send any emails out for an hour once that starts happening. And
when I have tried to contact someone about it at Yahoo about it, I can sent on a circular message kind of
ordeal where I can’t find anyone to talk to and eventually give up. I have adjusted, although it continues to
annoy me every two weeks.

But I recently learned that my problems with a private bureaucracy pale in comparison to Centro Hispano.

When I went to Centro Hispano last week for a meeting at the Latino Chamber of Commerce, I ran into
Jacqueline from Centro talking to Matt from DANENet. They were talking about a “The Trial” experience that
they were having with Google, a large private bureaucracy. Google had shut down Centro Hispano’s
access — across the board — to its email, Google documents and everything else that they had within
Google’s domain. Google just shut them down on Monday and this was already Wednesday.

If this wasn’t bad enough, Centro Hispano couldn’t find anyone to tell them what happened, why it happened
and how they could cure the problem and resume operations. There was no redress and no due process.
Did some complain about them? Was it someone who was anti-immigrant? Did someone label them a
terrorist organization? They didn’t know in this very Kafkaesque situation.

After two days, they found the number of someone they could talk to who lived in Indonesia and so they
would have to wait until 8 p.m. to talk to this individual when they started work in the morning. Meanwhile,
the digital portion of Centro’s work — and partial communication to the outside world — ceased.

I find that to be very scary. And as these private organizations become larger and larger — too large to fail
— what does it mean for the basic rights of ordinary citizens? While we may not realize it, they hold
enormous power over our lives. Outside of the sometimes fictitious marketplace, who is going to ensure
that our basic rights are respected, to assure us that our Internet experience won’t become a Kafkaesque
experience where we stand accused and punishment is meted out swiftly and yet we don’t know why this is
happening to us.

As of Sunday, it is still not resolved a week later. And Centro has racked up a lot of IT consultant expenses.

It’s pretty scary if you ask me!
Jazz vocalist Kevin
Mahogany in Madison May 1st