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Remember the MEME!

Author: Barry Furey

Date: 2017-02-08
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Dear readers, I would ask that you take pause to remember the meme, that international icon of impeccable research in the modern Internet age.  Memes seemed to be omnipresent during the recent election process (which according to my Facebook feed is still in progress), but also lend a hand in shaping our opinions on sports, cute animals, and the television show “The Office,” as well.

My wife would smile wryly at my poking fun at memes, since I call upon them occasionally in the training classes I present. Granted, I do, but I use them sparsely and simply as a catalyst; a means of soliciting more input and information about important topics. Too often memes are left to stand alone, as if a snappy picture and a maximum of two lines of text could completely and adequately address even the most complex of issues. Unfortunately, another byproduct of the aforementioned Internet age is the information avalanche. I call it that because it has gone further than a simple information overload. We have not just tripped a breaker, but rather are buried neck deep in data that we cannot possibly have time to dig through. It’s even gotten to the point that we pick our potential partners through a process called “speed dating,” because even when we are talking about the due diligence involved in the forging of a lifetime commitment, to quote another meme, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” That’s were memes come in.

Before the advent of the meme, society had to rely on the age-old slogan alone. Unillustrated, it had to depend solely on wordsmithing to produce a thought that stuck somewhere in the psyche. One such catchphrase was, “Remember the Maine,” on which I shamelessly based the title of this month’s column. Now, most of you probably don’t relate to the Spanish-American War, even if you studied it in school. But in any event, the sinking of the United States Battleship Maine in Havana harbor and the loss of most of her crew lead to the entreaty, “Remember the Maine,” and was a contributing factor to the formalization of these hostilities. While few of you will actually therefore remember the Maine, I suspect many will know the source of, “I haz cheezeburger.” It’s a generational technology thing.

Unfortunately, making decisions based upon sketchy – and even bad – information is an occupational hazard in our profession. Call takers are rarely or immediately presented with complete and unerring facts about the real problem and the correct location. As administrators and managers attempting to get to the bottom of an employee dispute, we must often sort through our own version of dueling memes, as snippets of sometimes questionable data are described with visual brilliance. And anyone who has had the misfortune to investigate and review a citizen or agency complaint has long learned the lesson of erroneously jumping to conclusions simply based on flash and sizzle.

That’s why it’s our jobs collectively to question. We can’t blindly accept that the picture provided us is accurate, or that the two lines of text received are even close to being correct. These will take on even greater implications in the Next Gen 9-1-1 world of tomorrow. But right now they simply apply to getting all the information needed to come to the truth. I’m not suggesting that we ignore all that we see and hear, because at some point you do have to rely on what the caller tells you. However, gut instinct and a regimented interrogation protocol go a long way toward getting the right help to the right place in time to make a difference.

It's oftentimes too easy to get distracted from this task, especially when we should know better, like when it comes to workplace gossip. If ever there was a place ripe for memes, this would be it. The picture of an employee adorned with a catchy or provocative phrase could do wonders in spinning this week’s specially salacious yarn. This would be a major upgrade to the currently boring practice of spreading rumors person to person or through the outdated media of mobile data terminals and CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) notes. Imagine the energy saved!

One time, however, that we should pay attention to the man behind the curtain is when we view public safety advertising, especially where the results promised are seemingly too good and the product is touted to be better than sliced bread. And any ad that features a seemingly overjoyed dispatcher should immediately be dismissed as being bogus, unless the photo was taken at quarter to shift change and the relief has already logged in. Out of fairness, most public safety manufacturers (and especially those who advertise here) are reputable folks, but there are bound to be exceptions. The rush for some agencies to utilize and therefore de facto endorse wireless 9-1-1 applications, for example, has caused considerable concern and consternation across the PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) world because of lack of uniformity and proper vetting. Sometimes the result of good intentioned attempts at being on the cutting edge can leave the victim on the bleeding edge instead.

Which leads us to the ultimate need to get all the verifiable information possible before making a decision. That being said, it’s impossible for anybody to know everything about anything, but I’m willing to bet that even the most ill-informed person brings a lot more to the table than can be offered up through a jpg with some writing on it, or a catchy sing-song slogan. Remember the Maine? Well, as it turns out, it likely blew itself up and was not the victim of some hostile action. Instead of a bomb or a mine, it’s a lot more probable that gases from smoldering coal or an explosion in an ammunition magazine unrelated to sabotage or attack took the ship down; a conclusion that came long after the war was over.

So, as you navigate the minefield of modern management, remember the Maine, and remember the meme. You’ll be a lot less likely to blow yourself up and start a war if you do.


With more than 45 years’ experience in public safety, including managing large consolidated dispatch centers in four states, Barry Furey now serves as a trainer and consultant for the 9-1-1 and public safety communications community.  See 


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