Renewing your passport online | EFE

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Isn’t technology wonderful? Sometimes too wonderful! And often disappointing when it doesn’t deliver what it says on the tin. But when it works it’s totally mind blowing!
Whatever the age, from eight to eighty, most people on the planet are plugged into a device of some description or other. The weapon of preferred choice, in most cases, being the smartphone, which is surprisingly leaps and bounds ahead of the Acme Industrial Lughole Hearing Aid - a close second, particularly with the over eighties!

These days, our phones have become completely indispensable. Some people can’t even bear for their mobiles to be out of sight for one second, and walk about with it grafted to their hand, afraid to let go. A bit like a security blanket I suppose! Or a best friend?

As a tool, the smartphone is unquestionably the invention on the century. It can set our morning alarms to wake us up so we can check all our overnight messages!!! It reminds us of appointments and meetings. It offers banking opportunities. It’s somewhere to make notes. You can use it as a torch. Tell the time.

Nose into people’s Facebook accounts and see who’s doing what on Instagram. You can catch up on the news. Listen to music. Read books. Search for recipes. Watch films. Take photos and videos. Post all your personal details to the world. Keep all your contact addresses. Send and receive emails. Oh, yes! And you can even make telephone calls! And Zoom!

Throughout lockdown, a mobile phone has proved to be a lifesaver, keeping us all in contact with friends, family, and the world at large. What would we do without them?
Smartphones also continually remind us throughout the day of emails, messages, and all new posts on social media, just in case you blink and miss something.

Not saying this is a bad thing, but back in the day we didn’t rush to the letterbox every five minutes to see if we had mail! If there was a letter there waiting for you, then you found it on the mat when you randomly checked at your leisure, probably once a day.

Also, we weren’t overtly concerned with what all our friends were up to every five minutes, or what complete strangers were doing with their day! Yes, Kimberley Wannabee has a lovely new bikini, but do we really need to be notified that she has just posted a picture of herself almost wearing it? The backnote of our lives seems to constantly echo those little beeps, trills, rings and buzzes which our phones emit, reminding us they are still there with you, controlling your day!

Of course, we could always switch off the sound effects, but God forbid, anxiety would then kick in over concerns and possibility that we might be missing out on something. The idea of phone silence is terrifyingly deafening.

Before phones dominated our lives we used to catch up over a cup of coffee with a chat. Or lunch. Now that was a real social media event! Two hours of idle gossip in a restaurant with good food and a ‘copa’ or two. Nostalgic bliss. Yet to some individuals, phones have replaced the BFF and indisputably become man’s best friend. You’re never alone with a phone! And for the serious singletons, they really do provide great entertainment in a lonely, sometimes isolated world.

Another great feature of the smartphone is that it likes to remind you of past experiences by showcasing a gallery of photographs from your past. Hopefully, it doesn’t drag up too many scenarios or events you would rather forget! Technology hasn’t thought of that one – a distasteful memory that could trigger the emotion of sadness or grief. It seems to be all about getting you hooked into dependency!

With recent pre-Covid memories ‘smartphoned’ to me of distant holidays enjoyed before the pandemic grounded my travel plans, we suddenly realised that our passports were in need of renewal, should international tourism ever return as a regular pastime!
With that thought firmly in mind we thought we would take advantage of current technology, and renew our passports on-line. I mean, how difficult could that be? The online form filling part looked easy enough, with simple ticking of appropriate boxes. But supplying a digital photo proved to be . . . well, let’s just say, a little challenging!

With ‘selfies’ totally NOT acceptable, you need to employ a glamorous, photographic assistant. Enter Other Half! According to the instructions on the government advised website, the subject must stand, unadorned of hat or headwear, at least one metre in front of a totally plain background in a naturally lit room. Here in Mallorca many houses can be quite dark internally, and use of a flash when taking your passport photo is not advised! A spotlight is optional but can cause a shadow on the wall behind the subject which is a big no no! It can also cause reflections in glasses. Or if you’ve got a big nose, half your face could possibly be in shadow!

Luckily, we have small button noses, and the house has quite a few conveniently neutral walls. We only had to take down one large painting, although I had to stand on tottering tiptoes to conceal the picture hook in the wall behind my head. No retouching or filters allowed, so photo-shopping out a picture hook in the background is forbidden.
I can’t imagine what it must be like for those with smaller homes and walls covered with farmyard implements, bullfight posters and sombreros!

Photographic assistant must also stand two metres from subject. It’s nothing to do with Covid protocol, but merely to acquire a shot which includes head to just above the waist – a bit strange as the passport office only ever use a head cropped version in the final document.

This two metre distancing means removing any objects of distraction from either side of the subject in frame. Thankfully we also have well proportioned rooms but some people might struggle with these specific requirements and not physically be able to stand so far away without hitting a sideboard, bar stool or snooker table!

Compliant with all the online instructions, we then uploaded the said digital images onto the app on the government’s passport renewal site, which gives you a reading from ‘bad’ through ‘fair’ to ‘good’ – an indication as to whether your mugshot will be accepted by the passport office in question.

Although all our portrait photos looked crisp and clear to us, they didn’t register beyond ‘poor’ to ‘fair’ on the government app. Between us, we took over fifty individual photos yet couldn’t meet the strict, specific requirements. There is absolutely no explanation offered as to why your photo is deemed unacceptable, it’s just a question of ‘computer says no!’

The original idea of applying on-line was to embrace modern technology and avoid having to visit a photographic studio in a busy town, which was the only other option available as our digital photo submission failed.

The next day, out of curiosity, Other Half tried to submit the same photos again. Lo and behold – this time, the very first portraits we took were accepted as ‘good’ by contrast to being rejected as ‘poor’ the previous day. Without wasting a nano-second we completed the forms at lightning speed before the digital demon changed its mind. We paid the £105.86 fee per person, rushed to the post office and posted the old passports wondering if we would ever see them again!

With modern technology you can track your passport’s renewal progress and we soon received a text message and email saying our passports had arrived and were being duly processed. Hopefully, the ‘jobsworth’ who would ultimately decide if our portrait pics are acceptable would be in a good mood, and too busy looking for wooden ploughs and castanets hanging in the background to scrutinize the image looking for picture hooks! But according to the official app, both portraits were GOOD! And beautifully lit. So we were quite confident.

BREAKING NEWS… just received notification that both photos failed and we now need to provide professional studio pics to the passport office. OK, that’s fine. We don’t exactly have to start again as we now have reference numbers to use when we upload our new, professional portraits. But why put an app on a website which is obviously misleading, inaccurate and above all totally ineffective and inefficient?

Modern technology is only an asset when it works. At fault, it’s a total waste of everyone’s time!!! Personally, I can’t see much difference beween our submissions and the professional pics we have now supplied apart from the facemask! But hey ho! As long as we get our renewed passports to freedom, I don’t really care!