In which our intrepid social commentator boils down all the challenges facing our great nation into a relative handful of simple—but not simplistic—solutions.


Step II: End voice mail.

If, as some believe, Alfred Nobel created the Peace Prize out of remorse for his invention of dynamite, what do you think Stephen Boies owes the world as atonement for inventing voice mail?

When Samuel F.B. (FaceBook) Morse invented the telegraph, he typed an awestruck comment, “What Hath God Wrought?” to an equally impressed audience. We don’t know the first message recorded on a voice mail system, but we do know that the guys behind this technology hath wrought the two biggest lies in the world:

  1. Your call is very important to us. 
  2. Please listen carefully as our menu has changed.

Every other lie in the world, from “I’ll respect you in the morning,” to “Iran won’t build nuclear weapons,” to “the cable repairman will be there by noon,” is ten times as credible as the siren song of voice prompts.

Voice mail was supposed to make us more efficient and save time, but the actual impact has been just the opposite. If I have voice mail and you don’t, I can fire ten customer service reps and force you to waste time listening for the “new” menu options. I’d save money, but you’d spend more. Too bad for you, but that’s life.

Since everyone has voice mail, though, every person in the United States is wasting two hours each day, waiting to learn which button to push for more options. People who could be in the customer service department, answering real calls from real customers, are on hold instead, cursing as they push the wrong button and hear the dreaded, “I’m sorry, that is not a valid selection. Goodbye.”

The net result is that tens of thousands of companies are paying millions of people to listen to machines instead of talking to other people. Worse, it takes longer to listen to the prompts and get to the right person through voice mail than it takes to simply ask an operator for “accounting” or “customer service” or “sales.”

Voice mail is taking at least 30% off our GNP every year, and the number is closer to 98% in January, when everyone is calling about the Christmas presents that don’t work right. Add in the hours spent on FaceBook, Twitter and solitaire in the workplace and it’s no wonder that this country hasn’t manufactured anything since 1993.

The simple solution is to declare this noble experiment a failure and have real people taking the incoming calls. Productivity would rise, stress would plunge and people would rediscover the joy of actually talking to each other.



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