Everyones busy. Have you noticed? But are we busy or just out of the practice of talking to one another?
I used to get put out if someone didnt call me back, dial me up to say hello or at least stop over for a quick meet-and-greet.
Then I wised up, chilled out and let it go. The 21-century version, I suppose, of Timothy Learys mantra of the 60s: turn on, tune in, drop out.
Now when the phone rings, its usually Henry, calling for Sen. John Kerry; Louisa, representing Bank of America; or John, offering me a great refinancing deal.
Now my longest conversations are with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and
theyre not long because theyre pleasant.
Yesterday, after inserting about 102 numbers on the dial pad, I finally heard a human voice, Thomas, asking me to repeat the very same numbers.
You might consider saying good morning, Thomas, I address the operator. Do you think that would be possible?
But he was not going there.
We are very busy here, he answered. We are running a business. Our
customers want us to be efficient, not friendly.
Then at least be efficient, I said. Of course, how many ways are there to say, Look, lady, you yourself havent filed one darn claim, but your insurance has still gone up nearly 20 percent this year. What do you want me to do about it?
Before that -- silly me -- I called Clifford, the man who signed me up for the policy, thinking I could get a little clarification or maybe -- I dont know -- a little sympathy.
Oh, did your policy go up? he said. I wouldnt know. Im just the enrollment guy.
Im the guy who tells you a few jokes, gives you a snow job, gets your name on the proper line, then forgets you.
Accountability? Nah. Continuity? Whats that?
Im telling you, the future lies with companies that hire real people sitting in real rooms answering real calls. I know these are HUGE companies with HUGE lists of customers.
But there are also HUGE numbers of people without jobs. Smart people, too. Show me a company employing real people and Ill be the first to buy ten shares of stock.
That wont be happening this year. Our love affair with electronics, with shielded information, with using anything but our brains -- or a little charm -- continues.
But even with cell phones, land lines and email addresses, we seem to be talking less and less to one another. Were getting more messages but talking less.
At the exit counter of a doctors office recently, I got up all my courage to inquire about the results of a test I just had.
They were good, the clerk opined, although she didnt really know how much the whole thing would cost. OK? They were good.
But I want to know what the numbers on the test were, so I can compare them to last years, I said.
They were 50, 70 and 90, she reported after calling a nurse.
But what does that mean? I ask. Thats like the radio announcer from the West Coast who used to say, Now I have tonights baseball scores. Eight to six. Four to one. Three to nothing.
Its $30, said an eavesdropping fellow clerk, trying to be helpful, thinking I was asking about the money. Thats her co-pay.
Doctors know the drill. They know whats going on. They know that because of all the new privacy regulations - designed to protect us from dangerous people, mostly our families -- people at the front desk are supposed to call patients, Mam and Sir, not by their names.
Doctors have seen it all. A few minutes before checking out, my eyes got wide when the doctor popped back with several packets of free samples. At that, he grew somewhat downcast.
Isnt that sad? he said. How happy something like that can make someone?
He was right, of course. But still, as someone who has broken away from the mothership of an employer, I now know what it costs to buy drugs. And he was right. Seeing those free samples did make me elated.
The numbers on my test should have made me happy. I think. But the doctor was on to the next patient. He was busy running a business. And I was busy, too - answering calls, leaving messages, talking to machines, getting freaked if someone answers the phone.
It might be time for a wave of counter-culture activity. Talking one-on-one. But can we handle it?
E-mail Jane at firstname.lastname@example.org