It’s a familiar experience: “Thank you for calling Ajax Corporate Services. Your call is very important to us. All representatives are currently busy with other customers. The next available representative will be with you shortly.”
Interlude of synthetic music playing innocuous, annoying tune.
“All of our representatives are still busy, but your call is very important to us. Thank you for holding. We will be with you shortly.”
Innocuous music becoming even more annoying, punctuated by a marketing pitch for a special new product and the suggestion that you could do your business more efficiently online if you weren’t a Luddite moron.
“All of our representatives...”
We all know why companies do this. Their aim is to save money by reducing personnel. No longer do companies have banks of telephone operators standing by to take your call. If they are able to put the caller on hold for a few minutes, that means they are understaffed, but to a tolerable level.
If you have occasion to call an airline, a rental car agency, a bank, a utility or a hospital, you have experienced the looping circuits of modern communication. It’s worth considering how much time you have devoted to that annoying music. And if, in a year, you have spent, say, an hour on hold, think of how much time is wasted by the American people as a whole as they wait and wait and wait.
The advent of electronic communication is emblematic of a fundamental shift in the American economy. Corporations do not view the time you spend on hold as a waste. They view it as money saved. Modern communications are part of the greater productivity that has increased the efficiency of the economy. Thus, companies make money by forcing people to waste time, but who is winning in that transaction? It is not the people.
In many ways the hollowing out of the middle class has occurred because people are subjected to the decisions of corporations who, inevitably, look for ways to save money. Banks, notoriously, have ravaged the American economy, and their abuses extend far beyond the housing crisis. It is only recently that credit card protections have taken effect. Meanwhile, new banking regulations were approved on Tuesday.
A feeling of helplessness has suffused the anger of the present historical moment. Decisions by major players in business and government all seem keyed toward pushing costs onto ordinary people. The misdeeds of Wall Street have caused a recession whose costs have been borne mainly by millions of ordinary people forced out of their jobs. That tens of thousands of teachers have lost their jobs in response to a crisis created Wall Street is a travesty of a high order.
Nevertheless, Republicans are using the debt produced by the economic crisis as an excuse to seek additional cuts in services that benefit ordinary people — schools, parks, police departments, post offices, health care.
The only way to protect ourselves against the inexorable cost forced upon the people in the name of greater corporate efficiency is to push back. To pay for our schools, health care, research, defense, roads and trains, we need to go where the money is. That is what President Obama is beginning to suggest in recent appearances and speeches meant to turn attention to the needs of the middle class.
Someone who recognizes the world as a ruthless Darwinian place will say to himself, I’m not going to sit around on the phone all day listening to annoying music, I’m going to go online and take care of this myself. He will do the bidding of the company, wasting time as he boots up and navigates the website, becoming a corporate tool of a different sort.
Business and government need to recognize that the system need not be geared to the profit of the company alone.
The public interest demands recognition of the interest of the public. Somebody needs to answer the phone.MORE IN Editorials
- Most Popular
- Most Emailed
- MEDIA GALLERY