Rage, Neoliberalism, and Phone Trees

Conveniently for those in authority, shifts in public mood don’t have much impact on their power, at least until it becomes so extreme as to threaten revolt. However, it seems necessary to point out a tendency that ought to be obvious, yet is seldom acknowledged: that the neoliberalism, by hollowing out social relations and regularly prioritizing corporate convenience and cost over good service, fair dealings, and honoring contracts, is a significant cause of the much-acknowledged rise in anger in America.

We’ll use phone trees as a source of impotent rage that can’t be directed at the perp, the callous vendor, and thus feeds rising base line of upset.

Be honest: how often have you yelled at the phone when you can’t get past the prompt system quickly to reach a human and/or encounter only choices that don’t fit your situation? Yet because it’s stoopid to shout at a recording (as in to add insult to injury, the customer has succumbed to reacting to automation as if it were human) and it’s so inescapable, I suspect most underrate how significant an irritant it is.

Before we turn to phone trees as a symptom of neoliberal crapification, we’ll look briefly at rising choler in the US. A few minutes on a search engine will turn up many surveys where Americans answer polls saying they are angrier now than in the past. Note this was an established trend before Trump-despising became a national pastime. From the BBC in early 2016:

A CNN/ORC poll carried out in December 2015 suggests 69% of Americans are either “very angry” or “somewhat angry” about “the way things are going” in the US.

And the same proportion – 69% – are angry because the political system “seems to only be working for the insiders with money and power, like those on Wall Street or in Washington,” according to a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll from November.

Many people are not only angry, they are angrier than they were a year ago, according to an NBC/Esquire survey last month – particularly Republicans (61%) and white people (54%) but also 42% of Democrats, 43% of Latinos and 33% of African Americans.

Candidates have sensed the mood and are adopting the rhetoric.

As much as this and other surveys confirm that Americans are in an ever-more-foul frame of mind (for instance Poll: Americans Say We’re Angrier Than A Generation Ago and We’re all just so damn angry), they aren’t useful beyond confirming priors. At least the polls cited in 2016 got at broader, if more inchoate triggers for anger, like a sense of diminished power and prospects. As we’ve pointed out since the inception of this website, unequal societies are unhappy societies, even at the top, and inequality has only been rising since the 1980s.

But these polls are done by pollsters, whose bread and butter business is measuring the popularity of candidates, parties, and political initiatives. So it’s no surprise that they’ve engaged in drunk under the streetlight behavior by run surveys that focus on phenomena in their back yard. So they have found that respondents are irate about politics and more social media engagement is correlated with more upset.

But even if Americans will report to a pollster that they are mad about these matters, is this what they are really, fundamentally upset about? Is anger about politics a proxy for more fundamental causes? What if it’s along the lines of everything seems unduly difficult and stressful, and they lack the means and the power to make their situation any better? Or more starkly, many are struggling even harder yet barely getting by? And who would sponsor a survey that tried to probe issues like that? There are ones that track indicators of desperation, like how many have less that $400 in the bank, but there seems to be a paucity of broader work on economic and social pressures and how they affect mood and behavior.

A reason to be skeptical of polls is that these surveys beyond simple ones such as on voting intent is they virtually never do the required foundational work, which is a multi-phased, costly process: first, extensive, open-ended interviews to find out what the possible issues might be, then testing of survey instruments to verify their validity (as in among other things try to weed out bias created by the phrasing and ordering of questions) before finally administering the survey instrument.

Note we are skipping over the idea that some of the increase in anger may be a direct effect of Covid. A large-scale study in The Lancet found that 34% exhibited psychiatric or neurological symptoms 6 months after a Covid case. One could hazard that sub-clinical abnormalities would be even greater. Readers on a widespread basis have claimed to see a marked increase in reckless driving in the Covid era, and wonder if this is due to Covid producing some emotional dis-inhibiting.

Nevertheless, despite the generally conventional, as in not-terribly-informative, take on choler in America, a 2019 article in the Atlantic described some foundational work. It was based on precisely the sort of large-scale, in-depth qualitative interviews that are the hallmark of good social sciences research. But also note it took place in a pre-neoliberal society: 1977, in Greenfield, Mass, a town of 18,000 with a tool and die maker as its main employer. It sounds similar to the paper mill towns I grew up in, which also showed very little class stratification. The factory workers made enough to afford a house with a stay at home wife (or at worse she started working part time after they were all in school) and some luxuries, like a boat or a rural cottage. From the Atlantic:

Soon after the snows of 1977 began to thaw, the residents of Greenfield, Massachusetts, received a strange questionnaire in the mail. “Try to recall the number of times you became annoyed and/or angry during the past week,” the survey instructed….

The survey was interested in the particulars of respondents’ anger. In its 14 pages, it sought an almost voyeuristic level of detail…

Greenfield, population 18,000, was an unusual place to plumb these depths. It was a middle-class town with a prosperous tool-and-die factory, where churches outnumbered bars two to one. Citizens were private and humble, and—except for a few recent letters to the editor lamenting that the high-school hockey team had been robbed in the playoffs—the town showed little evidence of widespread resentment. In fact, this very placidity was why Greenfield had been chosen for the study.

The author of the questionnaire was James Averill, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Averill was a gentle soul, the kind of man who had once returned to a grocery store to apologize to a cashier after becoming annoyed over miscounted change. But he was convinced that his academic colleagues misunderstood anger. He had attended many conferences where researchers had described it as a base instinct, a vestige from our savage past that served no useful purpose in contemporary life. “Everyone basically thought anger was something that mature people and societies ought to suppress,” Averill told me. “There was this attitude that if you were an angry person, you ought to be a bit embarrassed.” In journal articles and at symposia, academics described anger as a problem to be solved, an instinct with little social benefit. “But that didn’t really make any sense to me,” he said….

Averill’s expectations were modest. He assumed that most Greenfield residents would say they only infrequently lost their temper. He expected respondents to confess that they were embarrassed afterward, and that, in retrospect, their paroxysms had only made things worse. In fact, he figured most people would toss the questionnaire in the trash.

Then the survey from the aggrieved wife arrived. Other replies soon began flooding his mailbox, so many that Averill had trouble reading them all. “It was the best-performing survey I’ve ever conducted,” he told me….

Most surprising of all, these angry episodes typically took the form of short and restrained conversations. They rarely became blowout fights. And contrary to Averill’s hypothesis, they didn’t make bad situations worse. Instead, they tended to make bad situations much, much better. They resolved, rather than exacerbated, tensions. When an angry teenager shouted about his curfew, his parents agreed to modifications—as long as the teen promised to improve his grades. Even the enraged wife’s confrontation with her unfaithful husband led to a productive conversation: He could keep the mistress, as long as she was out of sight and as long as the wife always took priority.

In the vast majority of cases, expressing anger resulted in all parties becoming more willing to listen, more inclined to speak honestly, more accommodating of each other’s complaints. People reported that they tended to be much happier after yelling at an offending party. They felt relieved, more optimistic about the future, more energized. “The ratio of beneficial to harmful consequences was about 3 to 1 for angry persons,” Averill wrote. Even the targets of those outbursts agreed that the shouting and recriminations had helped. They served as signals for the wrongdoers to listen more carefully and change their ways. More than two-thirds of the recipients of anger “said they came to realize their own faults,” Averill wrote.

Now one could argue Averill managed to find a context that would confirm his priors. In a community of generally tight social bonds, the trigger for anger was typically perceived misconduct by someone in a close relationship. The anger was salutary because it led to clarification, often admission of bad behavior, and a renegotiation of boundaries.

How often these days is your anger the result of a violation by a partner, family member, or close friend, as opposed to say wrestling with misbehaving technology or an uncaring bureaucracy?

The New York Times recently had an article about post-Covid rage against service professionals such as airline employees, restaurant staff, and hospital workers: Why Is Everyone So Angry? We Investigated. This to me comes off as pent up rage looking for a target, and aiming it at an institutional front person, regardless of whether they were actually responsible for the problem. In other words, given an inability to find someone in an organization who can be made to feel consequences for whatever perceived or actual wrong, consumers are now lashing out at someone they think they can abuse emotionally.

And now let’s turn to the lowly phone tree as a neoliberal tool. It’s hard to find any data, but once you get beyond small businesses like dentist’s practices, they seem to be pervasive. And it’s not as if well designed ones in the right setting are bad. If you call the grocery store and can select the meat department versus the bakery, and still get an operator, you as customer have not faced a big time cost beyond what you’d experience if you had a human directing the call.

However, for many big organizations, the phone tree has become an elaborate exercise in shifting costs onto the consumer, particularly now that many contain long preambles that include selling (say a loyalty rewards program) and designed-to-increase-frustration lectures that going online or using chat would be faster.1 For instance, disputing how a health insurance claim was processed inevitably entails speaking to a representative. Yet my insurer, with all of its introductory nattering, makes sure it takes minutes to get to one, even before queuing. And don’t get me started about how most systems force the consumer to qualify themselves twice, first with the automated system, then with a live person. What is the point of this duplication save harassment, or at best, to make clear the customer is actually a supplicant?

If you have been phone-tree-tortured by a big bank, you can easily encounter 3 or 4 layers of 9 options each with narrow issues. And they are often good at making it hard to circumvent the automation to get to a live person, even when you know your issue is so-non standard as to not be in the hierarchy (for instance, when I needed to get a few duplicate credit card statements from my deceased mother’s account. Not only was it virtually impossible to reach anyone nominally responsible, they then simply arranged, even after a lawyer nastygram, only to keep sending letters saying the balances were paid in full. It was only after several attempts, by dint of luck of finally getting a more seasoned phone rep who did get the statements sent out. But why should customer service be a random event?)

Perhaps I am an outlier, but the flip side is I have not had the misfortune of late to get into any high-stakes fights, like over a surprise medical bill. But when I was in Thailand for two weeks in February, and still doing some work and encountering hassles like a misbehaving ride-summoning app, I realized I had not been angry for two weeks. And while the Thais are exceptionally considerate, I realized not dealing with phone trees were a big factor.

1 There is a school of thought in Silicon Valley, exemplified by Google, that customers are not entitled to human interaction, so their executives would see phone tree whinging as spoiled.

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  1. Eureka Springs

    Phone trees are an enormous tax on a customers time. With ever increasing difficulty in reaching a person they are less and less able to act like a human being. The computer still dictates behavior. Additionally as Yves touched on there is less security with ever more claims of the opposite. The actual humans will not give their name, location, direct phone number to reach them if disconnected and so on. All while demanding your most sensitive info, far beyond the amount of info needed. The very antithesis of security.
    Around about ’96 I made the mistake of buying a new, the only one I ever owned, IBM windows machine with a whopping 1 Gig hard drive. Trouble ensued within 48 hours and after struggling with developing phones trees of that era I got on the web and found the IBM CEO’s phone number. Now I didn’t get the CEO but the secretary resolved the issue in minutes. A human being showed up in my office in Little Rock that afternoon to install a new 2 gig hard drive.
    Try finding any executives number today.
    Last week I was in the middle of Kansas about to drive an old truck back home in Northwest Arkansas when I decided a tire should be swapped out with a brand new spare. Over the next hour and a half, stopping in three very small towns I pulled into a tire shop to ask for a simple removal of eight lug nuts, replace tire, replace lug nuts. No air needed, nothing. The first two places the computer time at the counter was ridiculous, only for the computer to tell the person it could fit me in 6 hours to two days later. The third place had no computer at all and was the busiest shop stopped by so far, had my tire replaced with money in their hand faster than others computer could begin the delay process.

    I no longer keep my blame on the invisible bosses but directly say to the “person” how can you treat fellow human beings this way? If you need a job, are you leaving this one at 5 p.m. today and looking for another, any other job which treats people with basic human decency? If not, this is on you as much as anyone else.

    1. ChiGal

      blaming another little guy who is as powerless as an employee as you are as the customer is counterproductive. although I am often so frustrated by the replacement of actual people with AIs that by the time I get a human I know there is exasperation (and no dearth of expletives) in my voice, I always take a moment to clarify that it is the corporate entity I am upset with, not the hapless frontline worker who often is ridiculously disempowered to actually take any action to ameliorate the situation.

      as if their choice to take their thankless job is my problem rather than the system being both of our problems! solidarity, man…

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        Agreed, with my only clarification being when a customer service employee cops an officious attitude and says something along the lines of “We can’t do that.” On those occasions, I frequently can’t help asking them who “we” is, and pointing out that when management talks about “we,” they and their co-workers are most definitely not included…

      2. Lee

        “Be honest: how often have you yelled at the phone when you can’t get past the prompt system quickly to reach a human and/or encounter only choices that don’t fit your situation?”


        “…always take a moment to clarify that it is the corporate entity I am upset with, not the hapless frontline worker who often is ridiculously disempowered to actually take any action to ameliorate the situation.”

        Every time.

      3. lyman alpha blob

        Also agree. In situations like that I start off with telling the customer service rep that I’m not blaming them, then note that as the conversation is being recorded, I have a lot to say about the way the company does its business. I usually finish by suggesting a giant raise for the customer service person who has to put up with angry people like me all day due to the policies of the C suite types.


        1. Tiffany

          Me too. Suggest that if and when they quit, they “accidentally” email as many files as they can to an alternate news source.

      4. Steven A

        Thanks. Keep in mind that the phone service centers have high turnover and none of the employees are there because of a career choice. My son worked as a customer service rep for a well-known satellite TV service and lasted about three months, when he finally got fed up with the abuse. Some of his fellow employees were driven to therapy in order to cope. Their management treated burned out employees the same way they treated burned out light bulbs — unscrew, discard, replace, use the replacement until it burns out, repeat.

    2. elissa3

      Had a very similar situation where I needed to replace two front tires after a harrowing blowout. I gave the two big chains 5-10 minutes on the phone tree and “your call is important to us” before hanging up and driving to a local tire place. The owner dealt with me directly and we made a deal. Yes, I paid about 20% more (and luckily can afford it), but the moral of the story is simply: local, local, local.

      Fortunately, I have an anger-dispersing part of me that starts with very low expectations. When pleasantly surprised by competence, it is a always good idea to compliment the person performing the service.

  2. Edward Hackett

    The people in power – whether CEOs, politicians, or other government types don’t want to hear from anyone – keep your head down, work, pay your taxes, and shut up. This is not political, both parties do the same thing, and it has to do with the mindset of -“you don’t matter.”
    Regardless of their origin, I have never trusted polls because only the people with a complaint are likely to respond. Polls are often conducted by asking people with landlines and the time to answer a series of questions. This omits the younger generation many times have only cell phones and never answer a call from someone they don’t recognize.
    This is the same for protests that take place in the street – only strongly motivated people will go into the street. I’m not angry because my father taught me many years ago, “We get the best government money can buy.”
    Years ago, Walter Lippmann wrote about the phantom public and how the average person could never know enough to have an informed opinion about most governmental matters that are beyond their control. These thoughts were many years ago, and the world has only gotten more complex since then.
    I thought the ERA amendment was fairly simple and that it would easily pass and become law. How wrong was I? Even many women didn’t vote for it or didn’t vote at all. The results of any survey that asks questions more complicated than about Hollywood or some sports teams are highly suspect.

    1. Alex Cox

      The questions these surveys ask are themselves often impossible to answer. “Have you been angry or annoyed in the past week?” Angry and annoyed are two entirely different things. Anger is something which can be controlled and dealt with. Annoyance is instantaneous.

      Another example, in a national poll I saw last week, asked respondents what concerned them most. One of the options was “crime and corruption.” Now wait a minute. Corruption is, or should be, a crime. But were the the respondents concerned about car theft, or the Big Guy’s ten percent?

      These questions seem designed to obfuscate.

  3. BrianF

    When one looks at outputs for all major institutions in the United States the last 30 years has been a disaster. We live in post truth society with fully incompetent leadership across the board. Currently we have 2 lawyers at the department of energy. These people could probably not pass any examine in electrically engineering/ power distribution at the undergraduate level, let alone the experience of how all this works in the real world. The examples are endless across all important sectors. Political hacks running everything into the ground with bogus degrees in political science, law and economics. No one has experience in tangible things, manufacturing, hard sciences or reality. You could never even explain things to them because they don’t have the proper education or the tools to properly assess the things they oversee. Anger is a natural output to absolute failure in leadership, lying and lack of positive outcomes. If your not better off than I contend you are worse or at best the same. If the true natural state is improvement of society than even staying the same is failure.

    1. divadab

      Yup. NOte the new “Admiral” the “administration” is so proud of has a journalism degree and an MBA (or MPA?) from University of Phoenix. How on earth is this person remotely qualified to be an admiral, with no college military training, no command experience, and a couple of shitty degrees from degree mills? But I’ll bet she’s great at maintaining the Narrative, putting a nice shiny spin on the bad news…..

    2. Flavia

      Here’s examples:

      An entire institution that produces nothing but pays executives well and adds to one’s utility bills:

      Marin Clean Energy

      and a personality:

      Dorothy Duggar, former head of Bay Area Rapid Transit
      No engineering, no mechanical experience, basically P.R. and nothing else

      “BART announced that Dugger was quitting as General Manager, with extra compensation of $958,000”

  4. ChrisFromGA

    This is a very good piece. I briefly worked at a telemarketing place, and as obnoxious as that sounds, they put a lot of work into measuring customer service agents average hold time, wait times in the queues, etc. Agents were relentlessly measured and penalized for putting people on hold for too long.

    That was 15 years ago. From everything I can tell, things have changed greatly for the worse. I started noticing during the pandemic that it had gone from merely annoying to have to deal with all the menu options before getting to a human, to darn near impossible. Hold times went from minutes to hours. And once I did reach an agent, often they would be clueless to help, untrained or just unable to help. Banks actually aren’t the worst offenders, IMO. That would be the airlines.

    I also share your pain, recently I have had to waste countless hours on the phone with my insurance company over a mishandled claim. I had one agent actually hang up on me when I went full Karen and asked to speak with her manager. I probably should have taken her name and reported it, but I let it be.

    I ended up filing a complaint with the state insurance commissioner over the issue. In my complaint, while it wasn’t the core of the matter, I detailed how the insurance companies’ failure to hire and train properly contributed to my frustration. Under no illusions that the state agency will change much, but it will require the insurance company to respond back to me in writing, which was basically impossible to get them to do without a formal complaint.

    Back to the airlines – my suspicion is that it is a short distance from cutting corners on customer service to cutting corners on safety.

    1. Flavia

      RE Banks, just walk into a branch and speak with the manager, whatever the problem.
      “That’s OK, I’ll just wait at your desk, I brought a book.”
      They will attend you and do what no phone call can do.

      Anytime I have a problem with a bank issued credit card, I do this. Let them call the 800 number. They don’t, usually have a special direct access number and get right through.

      1. Janie

        When we moved some years sgo, I made sure to meet staff at my new bank, go inside for cash, ask how the new baby or the kid headed off to college was doing, complement good service to the manager. Haven’t had to draw on good will, but I’m pretty sure it exists.

    2. Oh

      Airlines – here’s something for people who buy travel (trip) insurance along with an airline ticket:

      I booked a ticket on United last week and bought trip insurance as part of the transaction. I canceled the ticket within 24 hours and received a full refund from United. But the trip insurance thru the wretched outfit AIG was a different matter. It was not automatically canceled along with the ticket cancellation. I called the AIG (Travel Guard) no. and had to give them details along with my DOB before they would move on the cancellation. Even then I had to send them an e-mail to request it. I was warned that I had to cancel within 15 days of ticket booking. WHAT? Doesn’t the need for trip insurance disappear when I cancel my trip? Anyhow I was within the 15 day window. I see how these crooks want to hold on to the customer’s money without offering any service (insurance) at all. I covered myself by calling the credit card company and disputing the transaction. AIG is the same outfit that Obama bailed out with billions. Please don’t do any business with this company.

    3. Cine Tee

      Someday I’ll take a flight attendant job just for the training. The entire waiting area (with the frustrations) is poured into the plane, pressurized, and given to the flight attendants for the next six hours, who have to moderate 300 radioactive rods to sleep, or at least a low hum.

      This is the best blog site I know, just this article, if it got out wider could lower the choler in the anglo-sphere by 3 or 4 psi. It’s as serious as it gets. It could even be where wars come from. The conservation of choler may be the most toxic pollution of all. When I slip that slow cashier a little jab, with a bit of a twist of the knife, I know what happens, because I’ve been on the other side. It’s nice to get compliments, but they get absorbed immediately into a bit of self-esteem, but jabs keep bouncing.

      A lot of sad cats and dogs get the other side of it, but they do humanity a service. The jab stops there. Many kids too, but that doesn’t absorb it, it’s an investment in the future. As Loudon Wainwright sang, “I saw one tear drop, the rest you kept inside” (Hitting You).

      In absence of a helpless sink, it’s not easy to get rid of the charge. Face to face, people can get violent easily, they won’t have it. Anonymous or faceless transfer of charge seems is common these days. On the road, or on facebook, especially if somehow the receiver can be convinced that he/she deserved it. And the conservation of choler takes it from there. They’ll use it to “own” someone else.

      But aside from pets, it does seem possible for humans to sink the charge and dissipate it. I’ve seen it very rarely, but flight attendants seem very good at it. They can’t let a stray heavy neutron bounce around the cabin for the next six hours. A passive/aggressive “I’m sorry sir” won’t do, that’s just deflection, and the ping pong balls will keep going and fill the cabin. They usually seem to really absorb the jab with real strength and humility. I seem to feel the pain with them as I watch them. But maybe that’s just because I don’t know how they do it. Other times, they’ll shut it down simply like an alpha wolf at an errant pup. If they do it right it works really well. Somehow then the choler summons strength and maturity from both people to be bigger. It’s ok to be bigger, but it’s not easy when we think we’re running on empty.

      I think we all used to be able to do that, before the “hollowing out of social relations,” when social relations were vital, face-to-face, wet and huggy, when lying is too close and obvious, resentments can’t burn for long without making up, or when we we had practices for it, like confession and atonement. A witch doctor who helps you keep your chest clear, the wind blows through you, with nothing to defend. Once in while, rarely these days, I see someone who’s not running on empty, a full and thankful heart, and there’s something other than choler shining from them. When you have a whole group, like at a good retreat, it’s like coals in the campfire. Greg Brown sang “When someone was sick we gathered all around them, And lay our hands upon them, all of us, old and young.” It would be better than another world war.

  5. polar donkey

    I recently tried to get my password reset to access my treasury.gov account. Called the number and recording said it would be an hour and fifteen minutes to talk to a representative. Wtf

    1. ambrit

      It’s all a part of “Cute Furry Grover” Norquist’s strategy of ‘Drown the Government in the Bathtub.’ Reduce the staffing of a Department until it fails. Next, blame the reduced Department itself for the failure and “save the day” by implementing a sure fire, no questions asked, no bid contract Public Private Partnership to ‘salvage’ the wreckage of the Department involved.
      Never forget; “Your call is important to us.” /s

    2. lyman alpha blob

      On the (very small) plus side, that’s how you can tell the number is legit and not a scammer.

      A few years ago the IRS sent me a suspicious looking letter telling me I had to fork over a few hundred dollars since my taxes had been filled out incorrectly (thanks Turbotax!). I called the listed number, waited on hold for about an hour, got disconnected, called back, hold again, and finally I just hung up and paid the damn thing. I figured if it was a scammer trying to get my money, they would have picked up the [family blog]ing phone.

  6. EAC

    One thing that has come to my attention about phone trees concerns the Americans with Disabilities Act. Visually impaired folks often have questions about accounts with extremely long account numbers and other information that require “punch-in” numbers. If anyone needed a human on the other end of the phone, it is surely a visually impaired person. I have seen a family member receive mailings concerning an urgent matter that included needing to be able to see extraordinarily long incident numbers and so on, which they cannot read, and yet they are kept in a loop without being able to reach a human who could actually look this stuff up.
    How can this not be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act?

    1. Antagonist Muscles

      I am in the arduous process of filing for disability via the Social Security Administration. What Yves wrote in the introduction to this recent post on medical debt rang true for me. She wrote:

      Applications for social safety nets are by design so difficult as to be punitive. When you are on the receiving end of that sort of thing, even when it is purely bureaucratic, it’s hard not to take it personally.

      I don’t necessarily get angry at phone trees mostly because of infrequency, but it is rather unfortunate and time consuming that I eventually have to explain to a human that I suffer some truly rare medical disorders.

      I am not actually blind, but I have rare neurological problems that make using a smartphone painful. Accordingly, I pretty much stopped using my phone except to take and receive calls. (How quaint!) As for phone trees, I can navigate a phone tree when I am using my home phone—which is just an ordinary cordless phone—because that phone has large physical buttons I can see and feel. I don’t bother to pay for a long distance plan on my home phone, and this means I have to use my mobile phone to make long distance non-toll free calls. It is a nightmare when I have to navigate a phone tree with my smartphone because I then must look at a virtual numpad, which causes me eye strain and headaches. Most people never give any thought to how difficult it is for me to type long strings of numbers via my smartphone or use the virtual keyboard.

      Likewise, few ever give any thought to the ergonomics of input devices for the disabled. My home phone and the keyboard these words come from have a subtle raised dot on the number 5. This is valuable for me so I can orient my fingers with respect to the centered 5. Take a look (or feel) for yourself. On my home phone, I tend to type with my thumb or forefinger. I can type 0-9, *, and # without actually looking at the buttons. On my full-sized keyboard, I am even more a dexterous. I actually use all five fingers of my right hand when using the numpad. My index, middle, and ring fingers type 1-9; my thumb types 0; my pinky types enter; my ring finger types plus and minus. It’s pretty startling how effortlessly I shift my right hand from the home keys to way out to the right side to enter long strings of numbers.

      YMMV. Perhaps you use a laptop without 104 keys. Or maybe you deliberately use a keyboard that lacks a numpad. Incidentally, phone numpads have the 1 in the top left corner and the 9 in the bottom right corner. Keyboards have the 1 in the bottom left corner and the 9 in the top right corner. This is apparently a historical artifact of rotary phones. My memory of rotary phones is dim. Did they orient the numbers from 1-9 and 0 counter-clockwise? Or is it 0-9 counter-clockwise?

    2. Laura in So Cal

      My father has severe macular degeneration. I now basically am with him for all customer service phone calls so I can do the keypad inputs and so he can authorize me to read off account numbers, etc. I do most his internet interactions as well because he can’t do the “I am not a robot” tests fast enough so they time out.

  7. Alice X

    If the climate impact of fossil fuel use were factored into the price, say with taxes that made gasoline $25 a gallon just as one example, there would be a definite social response.

  8. Kengferno

    Funny, I thought this was going to be about the uproar (kind of nimby-ish, but also reasonable considering the situation) around the installation of 5G phone (fake)trees along the boardwalk in Belmar, NJ.

    As far the slow disintegration of customer service I’ve noted a few times in comments on how worsening customer service is often the first step towards product ensh*tification, stakeholder priority, stock buybacks and finally a complete disdain towards their own products and the people that use them. For a handy example, see Hollywood, most big blockbuster films, striking workers.

    1. digi_owl

      Heh, from what i can tell such fakery has been going on for years. I think some refer to them as AT&T pines (though i swear i have also seen images of fake cacti).

  9. ambrit

    I must admit to having yelled at an automated phone system often over the years.
    Some time after I got over the feeling of stupidity realizing how absurd such behaviour is, I decided to do an experiment of my own. I started using various words and phrases to discover if there were ‘triggers’ that would put you in the queue for a live person. This also happened to satisfy my rather juvenile enjoyment of “creative cursing.” I never did find a ‘magic’ word or phrase that prompted a quick change from machine to human interaction. I now surmise that the “change” function is tied to a cascade of steps and or a time limit.
    What is increasingly happening in these Terran human to machine exchanges is a time function that prompts the machine to hang up, politely of course. After a certain number of unsuccessful steps and then a time delay, I have had the machine cheerily say to me: “I am sorry. We do not seem able to resolve your problem at this time. Please try again later. Good bye!”
    Heaven help us. We are now beginning to see that we are not considered important enough to afford the time of a machine!
    On a related note, I have developed a strategy to try and short circuit some telephonic interactions. Many times, the call will begin with the statement that, “This call is monitored for quality control and training purposes.” I generally reply, “This call is monitored for legal reasons.” Several times, I have then had a senior call centre person come on the line to tell me that I cannot record the call. Most of the time, no reason for this is given. I will push back. At this point, about a half of the time, the call centre will hang up.
    Someone wants to maintain their information asymmetry advantage.
    A secondary consideration is that angry people make consistently inferior decisions. Get someone ‘riled up’ and you can more easily manipulate them. I view the common tactic of inducing fear in the Public by politicos as a classic example of this. According to this theory, the frankly infuriating phone trees could be designed to induce anger and thus limit the logical abilities of the “customers.” As anyone who has dealt with a casino knows, “The House always wins.”
    Anyway, please press one to reach the Office of Consumer Neglect, press two to reach the Department of Degraded Customer Service, press three to reach the Bureau of Bureaucratic Bungling, press four to reach the Online Merry-go-round Representative, press zero for all other options.
    “Please stay on the line while you wait for the next live representative. Your wait time is….infinite. Thank you for staying on the line. Your call is important to us. Did you know that you can find answers to many common questions by logging in to our website? Just link to: www dot coprophagic customer concerns dot cum slash yellow showers registry to access our FUQs page. (FUQ = Frequently Unanswered Questions.) Thank you for staying on the line. Your call is important to us.”
    Further thought has bought up the phenomenon of the use of annoying music as ‘filler’ during wait times in the phone tree queue. I used to chalk that up to badly maintained automated systems, but am coming around to the theory that such out of tune, not by much, but annoying nonetheless, ‘background’ music is a secondary strategy to discourage the ‘customer’ from pursuing the matter any further. After a while, I have found myself holding the phone speaker away from my ear to reduce the annoyance. One memorable time, the music was so jarring that I developed a headache from listening to it for only three or four minutes. I seriously wonder if the torturers at Camp X-ray at Guantanamo stole that idea from the telephone system designers of vice versa. At Guantanamo, the “minders” would play death metal music at maximum volume in the cages of the prisoners for days at a time. The idea evidently was to disorient the prisoners so as to break down their ability to resist “questioning.” If it worked so well there, imagine how useful it would be at deterring customer complaints!
    The other aspect of the “Death Metal Call Centre” tactic ties into an observation I saw placed into the mouth of a fictional character in a novel I read years ago: “They weren’t trying to get any useful information out of me at all. They were just torturing me because they liked to do it.”
    The above makes me wonder about the mental health of the people, and it ultimately comes down to people, making the decisions in this field.
    Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    1. Nikkikat

      Although I have had my share of phone tree abuse, such as having to push button 2 or 3 to try and get someone to take my call as my issue is not an issue which is answered at any of the numbers, by far californinia’s unemployment system is the worst. Followed closely by Medicare. We’re talking days of sitting on hold. The only thing that worked somewhat was calling one of the lines for a foreign language like Iranian or Chinese and the agent spoke english so my issue was taken care of during the call.
      Medicare was pretty good just prior to the pandemic. I was applying at that time and I was able to apply on line and then call in and speak to an agent that checked everything. Had my card within 3 weeks. Just applied in March for my husband. A complete nightmare. I applied on line and got no mail response from them for 5 weeks. Tried calling in and the shortest time on hold was four hours. The hold up was the private company that checks identification. We both have passports, should have been able to verify identity quite easily
      As was the case when I applied. Now that it’s been privatized, it’s weeks worth of calling and sitting on hold. This company called ID me is a horrible joke. They were also responsible for our continued unemployment issues. California contracted with them to identify applicants. We had to send ID documents over and over again. They were continually getting “lost”. For Medicare I discovered that ID me was going to verify my identity by Checking My Credit file. What?!? My credit file? A private company?!? I have everything on file with the US Government. Plus they should not be able to get into my file as it is frozen and only I have the code to get in. Well, eventually after 3 months my husband got his Medicare card. We spent a total of 20 hours on hold.
      When I applied for social security I just called the local office sent in the requested documents and I had an appointment 2 weeks later over the phone, got my first check 3 weeks later.

    2. Susan the other

      Thanks Ambrit. Very Amusing. Where are all the Merry Pranksters when you need them? This whole situation is begging for a little comic relief. I think it would be perfectly justified to prank the brain dead phone tree torture of any government agency (Medicare of course) by organized call-ins and emails which have no question but just spin their questions as long as possible. It would be very expensive but that would get action from them much faster. A boycott of sorts until they give us people instead of Artificial Ignorance. Phone trees are ignorance at its finest.

    3. skk

      Just once, in response to the question, “what do you want to do”, I said
      “I want to yell at someone ”

      The system transferred me to a rep, and nope I didn’t yell

      1. ambrit

        That’s the sign of a legitimate AI at work.
        As I mentioned above, sometimes making the ‘customer’ lose his or her cool appears to be the name of the game with automated telephone systems.

    4. Petter

      That was really a great post.
      Just a suggestion but have you tried Morse Code?

      We’re still waiting for our IRS refunds from 21 and 22. 20 took about eighteen months and call charges to the IRS was almost equal to the refund (we’re in Norway – not toll free.)

      1. ambrit

        Wow. You could have done a Saint Brendan and rowed a coracle from Norway to America and then back with the ‘return geld’ in less time.
        No to Morse code, I was miserable at it and couldn’t pass the old Ham Radio license test because of it.
        I have wondered about learning Klingon and claiming Refugee status. (Some refugees get amazing tax breaks and grants from the feds.)

  10. Stukuls

    Marvin Harris talked about companies moving to all sorts of ways to not talk to a human in one of his books not sure which book now. Really tells us how long this has been going on and just getting worse.

  11. The Rev Kev

    The fun part of a telephone tree is when you have to select an option from several given which leads you onto more options, again and again. Twice now after following the prompts for my particular problem, one after another, it then lands me right back at the beginning again where I had started the call from. Wtf? It’s part of a whole where business try to put a moat between themselves and their customers. I have seen businesses that have removed their telephone numbers from their branches which means that you have to use the national telephone number – which drops you at the start of a telephone tree. I do wonder what will happen when they start to use ChatGPT in service calls, especially since it has a propensity for pulling answers out of it’s fundamental output. And when you consider that they have already found that it is already degrading in quality, they may end up more useless than the telephone tree that they will try to supplement or replace.

  12. Bsn

    We are lucky that we don’t often “have to deal with” such ludicrous BS. By keeping life as simple as possible (no cell phones, no air flights, simple – local credit unions, home grown food, etc.) one avoids these hassles most of the time. But of course it’s a modern, faster, better world now and so we must interact with this idiocy at times. My main concern is voice recognition surveillance so I employ either text to voice systems or sometimes use my voice box/changer with various effects.

  13. Boomheist

    Great article. I happen to have grown up not far from Greenfield, Mass and knew the town well, often went there, had colleagues who worked there. It was one of dozens of New England towns with a river, a mill or two, abandoned trolley tracks in the streets until the 1970s, and as Yves said a community where one income or one income and a half could support a family well.

    I think the rage these days is real but now directed not at a specific insult but instead at institutions that fail to deliver. People don;t get enraged at hiurricanes because they are clearly natural disasters, but boy can they get pissed off when their VA checks stop coming or their water goes bad. It seems these days everything is being driven to a computer basis (look at all the useless bling in cars these days) and as Yves says those damn phone trees are guaranteed to bring anyone to a boil, right up there with badly designed web pages and lately the total confusion between paper based billing systems and computer based ones.

    It used to be, and for years I did this and I bet Yves did, too, that early on when the phone tree monster was rising you learned (btw this was back in the days when we still were using wall and desk phones) to immediately punch “0” because this would get to someone real. Alas, those days are gone. The other day I called somewhere and being of a contrary mind that day decided to time how long it took in the phone tree I was in before I could punch a number to get a real person. Two minutes and twenty seconds. Good Lord.

    The computer and the whole information system, which promised to simplify lives, and vastly reduce costs so we could become more productive, has instead become a system enabling any idiot to justify any process and question, wasting years of time and enraging millions.

    I think people are pissed about politics because the media drives that anger to get clicks, but I also thing people are generally smart and get it that the whole system of commerce and decision making has been turned into a ridiculously inefficient, time wasting, frustrating process wearing away lives, value, and worth, and people know it, and they want it to stop.

  14. Kengferno

    In a happy coincidence, I’ve been dealing with customer support for a billing issue for my newly bought used car while reading this article and all the comments and even posting one myself earlier and surprisingly, it was a very efficient and effective call! It’s a small local loan company around nyc. The only phone tree listed 5 potential problems. I picked one, got a reply. She took my info then sent me on to the person who answered my questions and she then gave me her direct line in case there’s ever any other problems. Very nice, very helpful. The EXACT opposite of what happens whenever I call a large company.

  15. Clint Olsen Wright

    I find that finally reaching a human being can be the most frustrating part of the call because that person is located at a call service centre somewhere in Asia whose accent is too heavy and speaks too fast into what sounds like a defective mouthpiece. Is somebody actually listening to those “recorded conversations for quality control purposes”?

    1. ambrit

      I have been told that these “quality control” systems work like moderation does on the better run websites. An algorithm scans for ‘trigger’ words and, if such are detected, involves the call centre managerial staff.
      It actually is an example of the “Squeaky Wheel” phenomenon.
      “Thank you for continuing to hold. Your call is important to us.” That ranks up there with, “I’m from the Government and I’m here to help.”

    2. LAS

      Yes, or per nowadays I’m finding phone service providers ARE onshore, but they are disempowered. Store home appliance delivery for instance … there’s an appliance delivery rep working for the store and an outside trucking company and an outside installer and the coordination is very poor. For instance, the store rep who is spz to be providing real time customer service cannot speak with the company doing the appliance delivery b/c that company won’t pick up the phone for 30-40 minutes, even to the rep; really. Or you call the store service rep with updated information about the delivery and they fail to convey that info to the trucking company b/c they can’t get through and give up when their shift is over. Result: delivery is not made and everyone loses. Can’t wait to see how AI will effect these systems * for the better *.

    3. lyman alpha blob

      Had a very odd call recently trying to renew my Harper’s subscription. Normally I pay by check but saw a link listed to pay directly though their website. I tried it, and of course the website didn’t work. But there was a phone number listed front and center, no searching a website for three hours trying to find out how to get to a real person as is normally the case today. I thought maybe it had something to do with most of the subscribers being old farts like myself and Harper’s trying to accommodate. I called up and someone answered right away, much to my surprise! The accent was vaguely Asian but there was something a little off about it and I couldn’t place it. The person also didn’t really answer my question and sort of vaguely repeated what I’d said already back to me, and long story short, I wound up just sending in a check again which the person agreed I should do after I suggested it. At that point I was giving 50/50 odds that I was talking to a robot and I almost asked if they were a real human being or not, but didn’t want to offend just in case they were.

      Few days later I saw a link at NC comparing how AI chatbots operate to how human “psychics” operate by asking vague questions and repeating your words back to you slightly rephrased, and then I was about 99.99% sure I’d been wasting my time with an extremely unintelligent bot.

      Good news is the analog check worked just fine.

  16. Carolinian

    So I take the anecdote about Greenfield to say that small towns are different and that we are social creatures who don’t get to be social enough. Think of the neighbor’s dog left out in the yard all day and that barks constantly out of loneliness as much as its innate doggie aggression. Dogs are as intensely social as we are which is one thing that makes them interesting.

    I will differ in that I don’t think any of this is particularly new just as the decline of small town life isn’t new. Alienation was a big literary theme back in the ’60s as well as now. Road rage isn’t new either and driving has, to me, always been a kind of social microcosm where competitive instincts come to the fore with a protective metal box to keep you from getting punched. It would help if our “thought leaders” would try to calm everyone down instead of make them yet more fearful and angry. The whole society acts like “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone” and yet we are all still here.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The point was not small towns per se but life before neoliberalism increased job insecurity, pressuring even supposedly middle class people into working longer hours and devoting less time to community life. How many adults are active in local charities (as married women often were back in the day) or played softball or say bowled regularly with a team, or had a regular bridge or poker group? Those adult activities were common back in the day when even white collar workers typically worked 40 hour weeks and had vacations. And you’d find them in suburbs as well as small towns.

      1. Carolinian

        In my small town the Lions Club, Optimists etc used to be a big thing. I think they are still around but you don’t hear as much out of them. We do have charities and some just built a section of our new hiking trail but the highlighted contributors are wealthy citizens or corporations.

        But then my town isn’t really that small. Sinclair Lewis used to make fun of those places (not that much fun….his satire is dated) but I’m sure you are right that making the USA even more about money and wealth isn’t helping us with getting along and being “mature.” As our politicians become older many of the rest of us are being infantilized.

  17. Boomheist

    I would add that along with phone trees, have you noticed that on web pages these days it is almost impossible to find phone numbers (this was mentioned above) or even physical addresses? The assumption seems to be everyone will easily migrate to an entire www-based life, doing everything on the computer. This may be because the workers in the software firms are all young, but it is also the case that the vast majority of people older than, say, 55 or 60 are not computer-literate, or familiar, and so all these web-based “solutions” are useless to them…..

  18. Roger Blakely

    First I had to look up choler in the dictionary. It comes before cholera. Choler is being irascible. Then I had to look up irascible. It is having a hot temper and being easy to anger.

  19. Jason Boxman

    Be honest: how often have you yelled at the phone when you can’t get past the prompt system quickly to reach a human and/or encounter only choices that don’t fit your situation?

    Frequently for probably over over ten years, with plenty of fbombs. Sometimes it goes to an agent. I’m always polite and respectful to whoever is unfortunate enough to be working the phones.

    1. JCC

      After anywhere from 1/2 to 1 hour, literally, navigating near useless phine trees the first thing I do is apoligize to the human being at the other end. I let them know that I’m extremely PO’ed and to be prepared for a bad attitude and potential foul language. “I know you’re trapped as much as I am”, and then the onslaught begins.

      I usually add that if it’s actually true that these calls are monitored to “protect me”, which based on personal experience I seriously doubt, I usually add some severe choice words for the monitors themselves. I know it will do no good and have zero effect, but it helps my blood pressure :)

  20. earthling

    Driving across Wyoming the other day, saw a sign out in the country. Large, wooden, homemade and hand-painted. At its top corners were two American flags (Not Trump, as if to say “this is not about Trump”). On the sign itself, two lines: We The People ——– Are Pissed Off

    Everywhere I go, things are becoming crapified. The assault on human dignity is offensive to me, but ‘modern’ people don’t even notice it, they line up to be treated like dirt by big organizations.

  21. Cat Burglar

    About ten years ago, ranger friend working in Alaska told me that the Superintendent of Lake Clark National Park tried to call the Superintendent of Yosemite National Park, and found it was impossible to get through the Yosemite NP phone tree — even he couldn’t get a person to talk to. If I needed to talk about trail conditions or permits, I would call the business number at receiving and have them transfer me. Sometimes you could get a person.

  22. Paul Jurczak

    it’s stoopid to shout at a recording

    Shouting may not be the best strategy, but uttering something incomprehensible in a made up language helped me to get a human on the line in many cases. It produces a low confidence score from the voice recognition system and may bump you out of the automated system.

  23. timbers

    It’s so bad, my default action is to keep repeating “person” to the AI robot lady. I never answer any questions or give information because that immediately triggers more questions. It usually works but can take awhile. One awful example stands out, from my bank – their tree asks you to input endless info like ac#, SS#, date of birth whatever. Then it spits out your last 3 transactions, ac balance, and hangs up. So you ring again select a different category of service. It asks for the same info, and proceeds to the same routine – spits out last 3 transactions, ac balance, hangs up.

    1. ambrit

      It must not be a pure coincidence that any “smart” crook, er, suspect, will only utter one word in the interrogation room: “Lawyer.”
      Phone trees bear a remarkable similarity to police interrogations. Both attempt to get the “perpetrator,” oh, sorry, “customer,” to admit guilt, even when that person is completely innocent.
      I’m waiting for the Phone Tree Industrial Complex to begin playing “Good Bot, Bad Bot” in an attempt to fool the “customer.”
      “Hi! I’m Sunny and I hear there’s a problem! I’m here to help! Not like that rotten old Customer Service Bot you have been talking to. (Let’s keep this between ourselves, shall we? I don’t want to rile up old CSB, we do have to share a server and all.) Now, where to start?”

  24. dao

    Comcast gets the gold star award for the most obnoxious phone tree. You won’t get a live human, ever.

    Their in-person customer service centers make the DMV lines look like express lanes.

    Plus they have drastically cut the number of in-person locations so you now have to drive 3 towns over.

    1. Rubicon

      Dao- with regard to Comcast…..”We’ve been there; done that.” But, having a Scottish-Irish temperament, here’s what we do:
      In our city there’s a specific location where all Comcast trucks are parked. Even though all doors are locked in the building next to the trucks, we beat on the doors, many doors until someone comes to open the door. Invariably, these real people are accommodating. They’ve got all the computers necessary to take care of our issues. It works every time, and we always request their business card.
      If you can find in your area where the trucks are parked, adjacent to it should be their building. Keep hammering on the doors until they’re forced to hear of your need.

      And just to further anger the filthy rich at Comcast, we ALWAYS pay our monthly charges with a CHECK. They hate that, but we don’t care. A few months ago, suddenly the Comcast bill plummeted down to $20 per month. Ordinarily, the cost is $125.00. We contend this happened because paying with a check screws up their routine. Meaning, they have to hire someone to open up the envelope to retrieve the actual check.
      Now they’re back to over-charging us. We write them a letter, enclose copies of past balances – meaning all the ammunition we have sourced, and send them those documents.

      1. ambrit

        Around here, the Comcast (Xfinity too,) trucks are sent home with the service people. Evidently the company has some understanding with the insurance company. Previously, their trucks, parked behind the main office, were being broken into and rifled of the contents after hours regularly. (I know someone who works for them.)
        Their big bucket trucks are locked up in a compound surrounded by heavy chain link fence with triple strands of concertina wire up top. Plus cameras all over the place.

  25. Walter

    Had about a 2 week+, 7+ call billing interaction with Consumer Cellular, which apparently has received high marks for customer service in the past. This also involved multiple online messages and 2 calls to my credit union. Back and forth, not enough information, “Oh, we needed that number, not this one.” Very frustrating, but they ultimately got it right: a human or scanner or whatever had misread my account number.

    To be fair, all the CSRs were polite, and most seemed to try to be helpful. The credit union was better, but there was one misunderstanding and a small document goof.

    So I guess this is a success story—

  26. juno mas

    Is this article serendipity, or what?!

    Here’s my recent “public comment” to my PEBP Board.

    July 20, 2023

    Ladies/Gentleman of the PEBP Board:

    I write to you out of complete frustration with the PEBP benefit vendor, UMR. These people are not worthy of a State contract. Especially a contract that involves the distribution of payments to PEBP members for covered health care. UMR is simply unwilling or incapable of providing timely payment or coherent responses to inquiries. I often have needed the PEBP staff to assist in getting UMR to do simple clerical tasks (like correcting my mailing address) or to respond to pre-authorized claim payments in a timely manner. I pay my premiums on time; claim payment should meet the same standard.

    It is clear that UMR has no intention of being customer friendly. They have no direct phone contact to a knowledgeable customer service representative and their website is mostly designed as a tax on PEBP members time. Website links that are inoperative or useless have been the norm since the beginning.

    It is my understanding that UMR is a subsidiary of UnitedHealthcare. The same company that a Clark County superior court jury found guilty of cheating healthcare providers. See: https://www.teamhealth.com/news-and-resources/press-release/nevada-jury-finds-unitedhealthcare-and-affiliates-guilty/?r=1

    It is also my understanding that PEBP staff is backlogged with quality control review with UMR. Members of the PEBP Board, it is time to end the UMR contract for inadequate performance. Please save Nevada state employees/retirees any more frustration with this vendor.

  27. Grebo

    A lot of companies now have ‘live chat’ widgets on their websites. These can be useful as you get to a person immediately (I guess one person can handle many chats at once) but a word of warning: they can see what you type as you type it, the widget doesn’t wait until you hit Enter before sending. It’s possible they can see other things you wouldn’t expect too.

  28. Rubicon

    Taking Ambrit’s cue, “please press one to reach the Office of Consumer Neglect, press two to reach the Department of Degraded Customer Service, press three to reach the Bureau of Bureaucratic Bungling, press four to reach the Online Merry-go-round Representative, press zero for all other options.
    “Please stay on the line while you wait for the next live representative. Your wait time is….infinite.”

    Having been phoned treed to death, we have summarized the following: Have you ever noticed when you want a financial advisor move your money into a different profit category, it takes him/her ONE Bullet Second to have that done? We have concluded that the entire Internet System was REALLY created to make profit for those working in the Financial System.

    Each of us pay over $2,300.00 for Health Care each year. Last month one of us went to the dentist. They processed that through our multiple insurance coverages. But then, we received in the mail an additional cost as the privatized health company wasn’t paying the bill in full. You know what we did? NO, we didn’t bother phoning that company because they sound like computer-androids. Instead, we simply didn’t pay our monthly bill for them. They want to cancel our insurance; fine and good. We’ve found other, more attractive offerings. At this point in time………….we no longer care.

    1. ambrit

      Agree with the comment about financials being favoured on the internet.
      Al Gore has a lot to answer for.

  29. Tiffany

    There’s an entire website dedicated to fighting this, plus other pro citizen things. Been around for almost 30 years I believe. verdant.net

    That walk into the bank managers cubicle to get things done comes from that.
    Also the technique to call the trouble/warranty phone number of a company BEFORE you buy their products to see how they respond etc.

  30. Lexx

    A better question might be ‘how often have you been frightened/nervous within a week?’ Anger is mostly a front for fear. Fear and vulnerability are harder to identify; we’re in denial when it’s happening. Anger comes to the forefront to defend and not very effectively. .

    ‘Face’ is worth examining more closely. Where did that expectation come from? How capable do we expect ourselves and the those around us to be and is that expectation reasonable under the circumstances?

    We taxpayers from a warrior nation pay the bills; few of us fight the battles ourselves but get the credit/blame nevertheless. There’s a lot going on on the world stage in our names over which we have no control and the disconnect is effecting every aspect of our lives.

    If I had to put a finger on what worries people the most, it isn’t for themselves alone but for others they care for within their orbit over which they have even less control, so face is lost by extension… it’s about family. The fear is deeply tribal, an extinction of identity. If I read the news or examine what’s going around me in public through that lens, we’re in deep doo-doo. I wonder more often now than I used to, how much longer the U.S. will be able to continue to self-medicate and what happens when they stop.

  31. Elizabeth Burton

    Aaaand…another article that reinforces my unscientific opinion that the epidemic of depression and anxiety we’re experiencing is the direct result of people having been sold that “mature people don’t get angry” BS for so long it’s now simply accepted as gospel. So, I will continue to suggest people punch their sofa cushions till they feel better.

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