August 19, 2012
Answer the Fucking Telephone!

This modest legislative proposal from James Howard Kunstler deserves the widest possible circulation. So tweet it, poke it, Digg it, friend it, or whatever it is people do to make stuff go viral.

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 “efficiency…”

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…

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.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at August 19, 2012 07:48 PM
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Bravo! That's a brilliant idea!

Posted by: Ted McLaughlin on August 20, 2012 1:02 AM

Only useful if the person who answers has to know diddly about the question being asked. http://xkcd.com/806/

Posted by: Martha Bridegam on August 20, 2012 3:18 AM

Usually, by the time I get a real person on the phone, they don't want to talk to me. I'm so angry by then that they usually just hang up on me.

Posted by: knowdoubt on August 20, 2012 6:17 AM

My favorite is when I finally get to a human (like at the American Express call center which I think is in India, for example,) the human tells me the computer won't let them fix the problem and, of course, that is that!

Posted by: Albaz on August 20, 2012 12:57 PM

While being shuffled around and around on a call to the water company, I discovered that if I yell and curse, all of a sudden a human picks up and asks how she can help.

(I was entitled to bad behavior. I was being billed for the water service at my house's former owner's new house, as well as my own. It was my third call, I'd received two such former owner bills, and I'd been on the phone 15 minutes, part of that time assaulted by a computer voice asking me to speak up as I read off my 73-digit service code.)

Posted by: JoyfulA on August 20, 2012 8:42 PM
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