Telling the story of my life in my home - Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Adjusting Expectations in Fort McMurray


I think we have a problem in this community. Actually, I recognize that we have a few problems, but I have identified a couple recently that have a lot to do with expectations. The trouble with expectations, of course, is that the higher they are the tougher it is to meet them, and the more chance for disappointment. I think we have some very high expectations in some cases, and while some are reasonable others might be so high as to be setting ourselves up for disappointment - and both centre around traffic.

The other day I was speaking to someone who was complaining bitterly about traffic delays. Now, don't get me wrong, as I do it too, and I am always and forever finding myself caught on the wrong side of the bridge (I have absolutely abysmal luck in this regard - if there is an accident, a large load, or a road closure I am invariably on the wrong side of it). I get stuck in traffic all the time, whiling away my time by singing out loud or listening to the radio or having conversations in my car where I present both sides of an argument (ah, my good ol' debate days coming to the front again, I guess). And while some of these delays are avoidable, and some are worthy of frustration and anger, many are related to the sheer volume of vehicles now on our roads. And that is why when the person I was speaking to said "well, it wasn't like this 15 years ago" I laughed.

I mean I actually laughed, snorted in fact, because I found it so startlingly funny. They are no doubt right, of course, as I am certain traffic wasn't like this over a decade ago, as I have been here for 12 years and it wasn't like this when I arrived, either. But if you are expecting traffic woes to be the same as they were 15 years ago I think you are setting yourself up for bitter disappointment, as 15 years here are probably like 45 years anywhere else.

Fifteen years ago entire neighbourhoods, schools, and roads didn't exist. And while other cities experience growth it is usually at a slow and steady pace, while here it is more like I once described to a visitor: "growth on steroids". It is hyper-growth, and our infrastructure struggles to keep up, and even while we build new roads and open them we are welcoming even more growth.

I see glimmers now and then, when new lanes open up crossing the bridge, for instance, of how things will flow when finished - but for a bit I think we need to exercise some patience, reserve our righteous indignation for those occasions that truly deserve it, and never expect this place to be like it was fifteen, ten, or even five years ago.

And this all brings me to my second point about adjusting some of our expectations. This one centres on traffic too, but also on social media, that double-edged sword. Social media is a terrific tool, but I think at times it has created a false sense of entitlement.

I recall once when a friend complained about the Facebook response time from a small-ish retail company. He was bemoaning that it took them almost 36 hours to reply to a message he sent them about a website order glitch, and he was both incredulous and indignant about it. When I asked what time he had sent his message he replied: "About 2 am on Christmas Eve, can you believe it took them over 36 hours to reply to me?".

I was not only bemused, but intrigued. I asked him if he realized real people run social media accounts, and if he understood that those people are not normally dedicated solely to social media (except perhaps in large corporations) but rather handle a wide spectrum of company communications. And I suggested that given those facts did he not think a 36-hour response was rather reasonable, given that it was a holiday and even those who run social media might conceivably be celebrating with their family? He told me he hadn't really thought of it that way as he had become accustomed to instant responses, and then we talked about how in the "old days" you could send an email and wait for days for a reply, and in even "older days" you sent a letter and waited for weeks.

I was reminded of that story this week when someone on Twitter seemed a bit annoyed that Alberta Transportation only seems to reply to their Twitter messages during certain hours. I was bemused once again, and while it would be nice if they could respond to us instantly, the reality is they deal with the entire province in terms of traffic and communication, and they too are "real people". I doubt they have employees devoted solely to social media (or solely to complaints from our region), and if they did I would wonder if that was an effective use of our tax dollars. I suggested once again that perhaps we have a sense of false entitlement to instant replies and immediate solutions, as we have become so "spoiled" by social media and the instant gratification it offers. Once again I think having that expectation sets us up for disappointment, because we are expecting things that just may not be realistic.

So, there you have my November 1 thoughts on adjusting some of our expectations in Fort McMurray. I think having expectations is important, because I believe we are reasonable to expect a certain standard in some regards - but I also believe we need to manage our expectations to avoid disappointment and unnecessary anger. I think on occasion it is wise to revisit our expectations and even scale them back a bit, so we are not expecting the traffic to be like it was 15 years ago, or instantaneous replies to our queries on form of engagement that didn't even exist until recently. I must admit I have begun looking at my own expectations, an "expectations audit" if you will, and plan to adjust them if necessary. Perhaps it is time for all of us to do the same.

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