Fresh old ideas
By Arnold Malone
Pioneer Columnist

When I was in High School, advanced technology was having an eight-track tape music player. What has happened since is earth-shaking, and it has changed how we have come to understand ourselves.

By and large, persons of my generation began adult life believing that we were in charge of ourselves and that it was up to each of us to conduct our life at our given level of competence.

The new technologies have shifted our personal power to a dependence on big outlets. We individuals have little or no control over what the big guys require. If you had a concern relating to your bank seven or eight decades ago, you would simply find the telephone book, look up a number, place the call, and a person in your bank would answer.

Today to talk about a banking concern, you call a 1.800 number. You will reach a person from somewhere. You will be told that “Your call is important to us,” you will be asked to listen to a series of numbers to press that might connect you with the reason for your call. You will be lucky if there is a category that describes what you want to understand. Likely you will be told, “We are experiencing larger than usual volume of calls.” You will be informed that you should remain on the line, and someone will be with you shortly. “Shortly” might be twenty minutes or longer.

If you ask an upper-level manager of a company or with a government, “Why do you use such a system?” the response will be, “There is a tremendous efficiency in using such a phone system.”

There can be no doubt that there is an efficiency for the user of these systems but the thousand upon thousands of Canadians who, daily, are called upon to sit and wait is a huge waste of our citizen’s time. This accumulated wait of citizens’ time is an utter insult to the concept of efficiency. These technologies not only frustrate us, but they also diminish our sense of self-control. We, small folks, have been relegated to being dependant without an option.

We need computers. We need telephones, and we need to talk to banks and other large institutions. Problems do arise, and we do need to be able to check on the cause and learn of an expected time for a correction. Yet, the whole new approach is as dehumanizing as a communication system can be. Often after a wasted hour, one just gives up and struggles for some other way.

Too often, the recording will ask that you check a web address to have your concern considered. The web address lists a number of possible areas for concern from which you are expected to make a choice. What does one do when none of the categories express what your issue is about?

Without evidence, it is my strong belief that the time wasted for thousands of ordinary Canadians waiting and waiting totals a far greater inefficiency than the gain of a company.

Once we were able to manage with our own strength and ingenuity. Now, we are at the mercy of technologies that we need and system that frustrate. All of us wish to be in charge of our daily activities.

Too often, we hear, “Your call is important to us.” If it is important, why isn’t it a wee bit personal? “This call may be recorded for quality control and training purposes” arrives on our ears like a finger wagging threat from a corporation. We are left with the options of remaining uninformed or accepting compliance.

Surely, technology can be developed where there is improved efficiency for suppliers as well as we consumers.

Arnold Malone served as MP for Alberta’s Battle River and Crowfoot ridings from 1974 through 1993. He retired to Invermere in 2007.