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David Bouchier: A Few Well Chosen Words

A Vast Electronic Conspiracy?


The web site fiasco that has upset the launch of the new health care program is a large scale version of what we all endure every day on a small scale. Any big organization, especially one that deals with money or government programs, seems to have a website carefully designed to create frustration, depression and homicidal rage in its users. Why they do this I don’t know, but they do it brilliantly. The British National Health Service abandoned its own attempt at computerizing its system earlier this year, after spending almost twenty million dollars on the useless technology, although this is dwarfed by the four hundred million that has been poured into the American health care website with no apparent result.

A conspiracy theorist lurks inside all of us, and sometimes I wonder whether the apparently spectacular incompetence of those who promote this so-called Information Technology is actually a deliberate strategy. The very name "Information Technology" seems like a joke, because information is the last thing you can get from these systems. The other day, trying to find a simple answer to a simple question from a big telephone company, I was simple enough myself to click on the "Help" button. All I got was a white screen with a message saying "This page is no longer available."

Banks are the worst. We have been battling for six months with a large international bank simply to get access to our own account information. The web site sends us in circles, as they always do. When we type in our correct code they ask for a security key, a gadget we don’t have. If we politely request a security hey refuse to send it. If we ask why they refuse to send it there’s no answer, and the screen goes back to the beginning.

The humorously named telephone "help line" is blatantly designed to make callers hang up. If you don’t give up yourself after half an hour on hold, they simply cut you off. If by chance you do get through to a human being, the dialogue exactly mimics the futile circular argument on the web site.

This parody of service comes from one of the largest banks in the world, although to be sure it is facing legal challenges in several countries for money laundering and other crimes, so perhaps its senior executives are distracted at the moment. I’ve read that even billionaires are insulted and ignored by their banks, so at least they treat everyone equally.

It’s impossible not to be reminded of Franz Kafka, and particularly his nightmarish novel The Castle in which a man struggled with an impenetrable bureaucracy and could never get through to the person in charge. He was never in the right place, nothing was ever explained, there was always a flaw in his paperwork, and nothing was ever enough, so he had to start all over again. Everywhere the victim went he was sent somewhere else, which was also the wrong place.

Sound familiar? Can it really be that designers of corporate and government web sites study the works of Franz Kafka along with programming? Or is it than that the important bureaucrats in The Castle simply don’t want to waste their valuable time dealing with us? To find the answer, go to the web site and click "Help."  Don’t hold your breath.

Copyright: David Bouchier

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