Yesterday I dealt with bureaucracy all day long. I called companies about bills, and I called the DMV about paperwork. But neither of these were simple phone calls. Rather in order to sort out the bureaucratic side of my life, I had to call multiple numbers before I was brought to people who could help me. And I realized some very interesting facts about bureaucracy, and specifically about bureaucracy over the phone.
1. Everything feels outdated. We live in an age of incredibly fast and efficient information. And yet, when it comes to dealing with anything involving a phone call, the whole process is virtually the same as it was in the mid-nineties. There are still stretches of time where you sit with your phone on speaker and wait for someone to talk to you. Shouldn’t there be a better system for this by now? Some sort of call back service? Or a place on a company’s website where a person can leave their number and list of convenient times to call and then a computer database arranges them for the people that work at those times? Maybe that sounds like a lot, but hold, and the music that plays while one is on hold feels like something that the human race could’ve improved upon by now.
2. Everything feels purposefully difficult. But perhaps all that is on purpose. After all, everything feels like an extra unnecessary step. Often you have to have all the information that you need in front of you, and you still might have to look up something else. It feels a little like being on hold is there to make the whole process of dealing with bureaucracy extra difficult. Even the word bureaucracy is difficult to spell without having to really think about it, and possibly have a reference ready.
3. Nobody can help you. And then when you finally do hear the sound of a human voice on the other end, often they tell you that you’ve called the wrong place, or pressed the wrong extension. Yesterday I called the DMV and got a machine and then when I clicked the extension for questions they told me they didn’t deal with cars. That is not an exaggeration. A number that the DMV (aka the Department of Motor Vehicles) sent me to had a person on the other end telling me that she couldn’t answer any questions about the paperwork on cars.
We have sent man to the moon (over forty years ago), we’ve created software that allows us to have face to face conversations with people remotely. But we still have hold.