Over the years, I've spotlighted America's telephone system as
the single best example of the diminishing returns of technology in everyday
life. This sort of negative "blowback" occurs when you apply
technological innovation to make
a system work better, and you actually make it worse.
As I tell it, we've spent four decades and untold billions of
dollars to computerize every
phone system in America. The objective was to "improve
communications." The net result of all this effort and investment is that it
is now just about impossible to get a
live human being on the
phone at any company, agency, or institution
in our land. Instead, you get to talk to robots who emit the reassuring message: "...your
call is important to us...."
Of course, that one obvious
lie is only one of the
million lies we are exposed
to daily in our culture
of immersive untruth, which
propels us ever-deeper into the politics of unreality, and it should be important to us, but I digress....
By computerizing all
the phone systems we allowed every company, agency, and
institution to dump all of their transactional inconveniences
onto us, the customers, clients, and citizens. That was done in the name of "efficiency," another unexamined evil buzzword from the MBA playbook of mendacious bullshit that passes for received wisdom in this deluded nation of craven Babbitts. Thus, the Acme Corporation gets to save $250-K a year in combined salaries and benefits of what used to be called
telephone operators or receptionists. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Acme callers every year get
strung out, jerked off, fucked around, driven mad, and just plain lost in the wilderness of robotic phone trees they are induced to enter in the name of
that number of Acme "efficiency" victims by tens of thousands of companies and organizations and you end up with a lot of damage to a lot of
The sheer cruelty and stupidity implicit here is too great
to calculate - has anyone
ever tried? Has anyone at MIT's
Sloan School or the University of Chicago,
or Wharton ever tried to measure the suffering inflicted on the American public in the name of all this vaunted efficiency?
Is there anyone reading this blog right now who had not ended
such a phone call in tears
this past year, or dashed their handset against the wall, or, worst of all, actually found themselves engaged in an insult match with the robot at the other end of the line?
Little more than a week
ago, I was boned like a Christmas turkey on an orthopedic
operating table. This was due to yet another diminishing
return of technology. I'd
been living with an "innovative"
implant that was being pushed for younger hip replacement patients back around
2003 as "longer-lasting" than the old metal-on-plastic joints. It
turned out the devices were improperly tested. Huge numbers of them failed. The simple abrasion of the ball-joint
assembly parts released
cobalt and chromium ions into
the surrounding tissues, destroying
bone and muscle and inducing
metalosis - systemic metal poisoning. I was one of the luckier ones. My tissues were not savaged, but I suffered a bewildering range of
systemic poisoning symptoms for more than a couple
of years. Such cases run to tens of thousands now, growing each year as the devices age and the failure rate surges. It is surely the biggest fiasco ever in modern orthopedics and
the lawsuits against the makers of these "innovative" devices now stretch from Johns Hopkins
to Alpha Centuri. But again,
I digress slightly....
The surgeon successfully
switched out my implant. They sent me home about 36 hours
later for the routine recovery
process. In the course of things,
I had to make phone calls
to both the discharge department of the hospital where the operation was done, and to the office of
the surgeon, a large group practice in a nearby
city. In both cases, my
calls where shunted into a bewildering robotic phone tree system. Here I was subjected
to dead ends, dropped
calls, mystifying routing
errors, unasked-for salsa
muzak mini-concerts, advertisements
for services unrelated to my
issue, phony reassurances
from virtual persons as to the importance of my
call, and lots of other gratuitous
annoyances. In other words, this is
considered the proper, decent, and intelligent treatment
of a four-day post-surgical
patient half out of their
skull on prescribed Percocet, one of the most powerful narcotics in the
Pharma kitbag. In additional
other words, our society is now so stupid
that it treats post-surgical patient / doctor communications in the same
manner as people calling
a retail discounter to buy
shoes. Actually, I'm quite sure it can be
demonstrated that the shoe-buyers are treated way better than
the post-surgical patients.
All of this is consistent with one of my current cardinal political theories: that it is
the subconscious wish of
all the people now running things
in this land to turn the
USA into the Bulgaria of
the Western Hemisphere by finding
the worst possible way to
get everything done with the greatest degree of collateral cruelty.
From this precept,
it would follow naturally that everything our leaders say and do about improving the dismal jobs picture is designed
to be as inept and counterproductive as possible. That is,
we don't really want to provide more jobs for Americans;
we just want to pretend that our intentions are good --
while actually striving to make things worse.
Hence, wishing to oppose these evil and tragic tendencies in the current flow of our history, I offer a potent policy initiative to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in this
country: the 2012 Answer the Fucking
Telephone Act. My proposal won't
cost a dime. Simply get congress and the senate to pass a law stating that
in X, Y, and Z essential services and business, all incoming
phone calls must be answered
by real human beings, with criminal penalties for failing to do so. Add to that another
layer of less essential businesses, institutions, agencies, and organizations who would not be subject to criminal penalties but would
have to pay a substantial
tax for every phone line
not manned by a live operator
- the tax designed to exceed the average salary and benefit package that could otherwise
be provided to employ such a worker.
Conveniently, the Supreme Court recently ruled that the government can levy taxes on persons who omit to arrange health insurance coverage for themselves.
Republican business avatar Mitt Romney reminded us all not long ago that corporations are people too.
So, like the health insurance slackers, these companies can either cough
up a tax to cover the
social affliction they're responsible
for, or pay salaries to real human
beings to answer the fucking telephone.
Answer the fucking telephone.
It's what's good for America!