If You’ve Run Out of Options, Just Hang Up

Society seems to have created a world modeled on efficiency. At least that’s what we’ve convinced ourselves. We have gadgets and widgets for any task we care to generate for ourselves, and multitasking has become more than a skill to cultivate: it’s now a way of life. But what happens when, in our quest for ever-increasing productivity, we back ourselves into a non-communicative, inefficient corner?

Nowhere is this blunder more evident than in any automated call directory. You know the ones: “For billing, press one. For reservations, press two. For requesting the return of the last few minutes of your life, hang up and try your call again.”

In creating these menus, we think we’ve done something clever. We’ve strengthened our bottom line by having a machine do the work of a human, a model of efficiency, right? But somewhere along the way we seem to have gotten lazy. Or maybe our attention is simply stretched in too many directions. Whatever the case, there comes the inevitable phone call during which the option we are seeking is not available on the menu. We get countless levels into the menu before we realize that there is never going to be another person on the end of the line. At that point, though, this information seems to matter very little considering we are generally having trouble remembering what we called about in the first place.

I can’t help wondering how many dollars have been lost, how many bad decisions have been made, how many arguments have ensued after one of these failed attempts at navigating the spiral that is the automated menu. What is to be gained from this experience? Who is to benefit from it? Is it the disenfranchised operator? Is it us as consumers? Have we found a genuine application of the concept of efficiency here, or have we only alienated ourselves from the very resources that allow this type of so-called efficiency to exist?


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