Saturday, October 26, 2013

New technology: efficiency capitalist style

source: The bitter consumer
Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

"Your call is important to us." No it's not. If it was you'd answer it.

I feel extremely frustrated and angry right now.  I shouldn’t feel this way. It’s a lovely Saturday morning here in the San Francisco Bay Area, at least, my part of it.  The sun’s shining, I went and got a nice cup of coffee up the road, had a chat with a neighbor; life is good.

But my home phone isn’t working so I have to call the phone company.  I tried not to think about this and put it off for a couple days as it is quite stressful talking to computers that repeatedly tell me how I can find information here and there if I push this button and that. I decided to approach the task again this morning.

It didn’t take long before I found myself in a battle with the computer responder, similar to the one I had last week with a different computer.  But firstly, it took me for ever to find a number that seemed to be the correct number for the issue at hand, a fairly simply problem to describe really, my land line isn’t working.

After about 15 minutes I found a number online that I thought could help me. I was relieved, I am not so keen on the “live chat” option, would rather talk to a human being. Unfortunately, there were a lot of push button options at the new number so I listened to that computer for a while. I realized that I didn’t feel so good anymore, I have a lot to do, plus, I begin to question whether or not the messages brought to me through the ads on TV every five minutes, interrupting my viewing to tell me about how efficient these new methods are, might be a big con. I do not feel like things have gotten easier.

I kept trying to get to a person faster.  In response to every command from the computer I said: “agent”, it didn’t work so I changed it to “representative” that didn’t work either.  I tried pushing the zero key but to no avail, “This option is not available” the computer said to me.  “Fuck off” was my next choice, I knew I was losing it as I repeated it again and again, “fuck off, fuck off, fuck, off”, I told the computer but it simply ignored everything I said except to repeat its programed answers. I tend to not be the best when it comes to the use of bad language in speech but I rarely use it in writing so the reader can see how upset and angry this computer got me.

I eventually pushed some button that said I would be talking to a representative. I waited a bit as the computer told warned me not to text and drive because the coupon clippers that own the phone company care about me and humanity in general.

A voice came on the phone, not the same as the one I had been talking to for 20 minutes.

“I see you’re calling from…… this the number you’re calling about?” the voice said.

“Are you computer or a person?” I asked.

“I’m a person.”, the voice at the other end replied.

I was relieved. Now perhaps I can get somewhere.

I explained my problem but it appears it might be the phone and not the line.  We weren’t sure so the voice said that the company can have someone come out and look at the outside line but if it’s a problem with the inside line it’ll cost me $50.

“Would Monday be alright for you sir?” said the human voice.

“Do you mean am I available between 8am and 8pm?” I responded sarcastically as I know the routine here.

I am very different with humans though as I did this sort of phone work; they are treated like crap too and under great pressure from the very same coupon clippers, or those they hire to manage this process.

“No” said the worker almost cheerfully, “You have two options”?  Capitalism is wonderful, I thought to myself, sarcastically again, gives us so many choices,.

“Ok” I say…. “, and what are they?”

“I can give you between 8am and noon or noon and 6pm.” Was the response.

“I see, will I be compensated for the time off work?” (I am retired but had to say it)

“I’m sorry sir but that option isn’t available” the guy said almost apologetically.

I couldn't help thinking of the cable guy in Seinfeld who after he lost the battle with Kramer says about their appointment system, "My god, if a doctor can do it why can't we?". So I told them to book me for the am, if I’m not here I’m not here. I had been on the phone for close to 40 minutes.

“Is there anything else you need sir?” the representative asked.

“How about the overthrow of capitalism?” 

“I don’ think we have that option sir”, the voice said.

At least I can be confident that millions of people feel the same way about this type of interaction.  This is what technology does.  As I commented before, technology that increases the productivity of labor is not a bad thing; it could make our lives so much easier. It can cut the workweek in half at least allowing us more leisure time and the ability to participate in the structure and organization of work, or the production of social needs to put it more accurately. But we do not own the means of production. We do not own this technology so we do not control its use; determine how we apply it. The technology in this particular example is designed to lower wage costs for the coupon clippers and keep me away from them.

Technology like all aspects of capitalist production is used for one thing and one thing only, for the appropriation of surplus value, profits and the accumulation of capital. In other words; to increase the exploitation of the worker at work and as a consumer. Technology increases the power of capital over labor---that’s efficiency to them.

Isn’t freedom swell!

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