“Please Hold”

[I’ve deleted personal identity from the following letter written to Con Edison, and omitted a form that accompanied it. I was motivated to post this edited copy because of a larger issue, i.e., our passivity to the growing imposition on our time. Rather than an extensive description of what we are all subjected to and about which we are all familiar, I think this tongue-in-cheek letter is sufficient to highlight a serious trend that diminishes our quality of life and freedom.]

To Whom It May Concern:

If no one is concerned, please let me know. Simply fill out the enclosed form and mail it to me in the postage-free business reply envelope enclosed. Or, you may call me at *** *** ****.

My compliments to whoever creates your automated phone menus. I am expert at getting a human to speak to me despite the most craftily created menus to keep me from doing so. Yet, I could not break your exquisitely designed code. Congratulations!

Unfortunately, none of your many menu options was remotely related to the reason I called. So, I waited and listened to the automated countdown: “All our representatives are busy. Waiting time is estimated to be one hour and thirty-nine minutes to two hours and four minutes!” (Exclamation point mine) The automated voice frequently informed me of the waiting time as though “two hours and four minutes” for a live representative is reasonable in a developed country that is not under cyber attack. I feel essentially the same way about a half-hour wait. I remember a time when waiting for a live response for thirty seconds generated a deeply moving apology from a live representative that would bring tears to my eyes. Her voice had the pathetic sound of someone who had lost her dearest friend.

Con Edison’s precise “estimated time” puzzled me because of frequent announcements—automated, of course—wherein I was informed, “Estimated time: twenty-eight minutes…Estimated time: twenty-nine minutes…Estimated time: twenty-eight minutes…Estimated time: twenty-nine minutes.” The estimated time was never reduced below twenty-eight minutes. Yet, from time to time it was increased. I began to sense the meaning of eternity: the absence of time itself.

The only phenomenon to which I can attribute that anomaly is that there was only one representative speaking to only one customer—or, that the computerized voice was designed for some kind of miracle, e.g., a destructive solar flare that would knock out thousands of held calls, thereby reducing the waiting time to twenty-seven minutes or less, instantly.

That being unlikely, perhaps you can find it deep within your soul to call me at *** *** **** as suggested above so that I might discuss the enclosed check and absence of a bill to accompany it.

Whatever else you do or don’t do, please post my payment. I dread having my electricity turned off and not ever being able to get in touch with you without having to give up a good part of my life waiting for someone to pick up the phone.

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