We’re So Busy, We’re So Busy

If you call any public office or even private business, you will almost invariably hear the recorded phrases “We have a lot of traffic”, “Our lines are very busy right now” or some equivalent. Sometimes you get through and sometimes you hear it thirty times before giving up, and wonder whether or not it is actually true.

Once armed with this potent magical spell, members of the organisation are unable to resist its extension to all situations; they require no other message and need admit to no other situation. For example, it can be proven that the claim to be inundated by callers is actually the default setting for their phone system; just ring the office at three in the morning and listen to their recorded message claiming that you have to wait because there are so many callers on the line. In other words, they can’t be bothered with a second message saying that the office is now closed and you should ring again in the daytime. What in contrast I cannot prove is that they use the “we’re drowning in callers” line whenever they take a smoking break outside, or are eating Friday afternoon pizza together (a common ritual in Norway at least). And yet it seems intuitively obvious that they must be confronted with the temptation to do precisely this.

The least we can say is that, unless the office is inundated by calls from the stroke of eight in the morning to whenever they go home, the message is formally speaking a lie. If there are no other callers on the line at all, then, before the phone is picked up, the message will still be heard, and will then be false. It seems to me that the public cannot help but put two and two together and realise that this set-up provides powerful incentives to goof off. And that this knowledge cannot be other than corrosive of public trust in the officials or corprats, just as the original technology is corrosive of work ethic. But what does that matter as long as rent-seeking start-ups can peddle badly designed “solutions” to utterly uncritical bureaucrats? After all, compared to voice recognition systems, this one more or less works.

Posted on March 10, 2010 at 15:36 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, Management As Cargo Cult

2 Responses

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  1. Written by urban
    on February 15, 2014 at 11:32

    Starting to suspect that it is in the nature of modern telecommunications to generate deception. ATT&T has a trouble-shootinmg help line that alleges to run diagnostic tests. While it is pretending to test your system it makes charming little computery noises that sound like something out of a 60s sci-fi movie, replete with beeps, buzzes, and clicks. At the end of this “test” the synthesized voice always tell you that the problem is with your internal wiring and suggests you schedule a $100 service call–even when you know damn well that the problem is outside because service went out during a storm that also took out the neighbors’ service, and you had checked for a dial tone at the box before calling!

  2. Written by The Ghost in the Machine
    on March 13, 2014 at 16:12

    The next time you actually are lucky enough to get through that bureaucrat, your bank or any other customer “service” representative, you might want to open your conversation with the following line:

    “This call is being recorded for quality control, documentation and training purposes.”

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