I like to know things. I was that annoying kid who kept asking, ‘But why?’. I’m still asking that question—but if it’s anything to do with bureaucracy, administration or everyday problems, increasingly I can’t find the answer.
Last week, I got a new phone, smart watch and tablet. About time: I’ve wanted a smart watch for ages, and my other devices were ancient and slow.
I ordered them from one of Australia’s biggest telecom companies, of which I have been a customer since the 1990s through umpteen address changes. The online ordering process was smooth: the watch and phone were a separate order to the tablet, and I did them within 10 minutes of each other. Two emails came shortly after with my ordering details, all correct.
Two days later, a “confirmation” email came for the phone and watch—inexplicably, the delivery address had now changed to an old one I had four years ago. I had no end of trouble getting this changed, then the company cancelled my order without telling me and I eventually had to do a new one. I asked many times how this old address had suddenly surfaced again, and they kept saying, “The wrong address was listed on the records”. However, they couldn’t tell me why that was when a) I had changed it on my account nearly four years ago, and all the bills have listed my updated address since then; and b) The initial order acknowledgement the company sent me clearly had my ‘new’ address as the delivery address; and c) the tablet, ordered at the same time, had the correct delivery address and I received it within days.
One operator on the company’s online chat forum was honest enough to say, “Truly, I don’t know why this happened”. OK, fair enough, but when I was in customer service, we were taught to add, “But I’ll try to find out for you”.
After talking/online chatting with five different people, the address seemed to be finally updated. But not really—on the PDF of each order that the company sent to me, although the delivery and billing address were correct, the ‘customer service address’ was still the old one. Again, I asked an online chat assistant if she could change this, and she said she ‘didn’t have access to that information’. Eh? She advised me to go to one of the company’s shops, where I would also find the SIM I needed to operate my new phone, which they had inadvertently left out of my online order but couldn’t now send to me.
Finally, finally, a helpful person at the shop I went to not only gave me the required SIM but was also able to change the service address. #whyrealshopsarestillgood
But I still can’t find out why the new address morphed to the old one. *Sigh*
When it comes to bureaucracy, it seems to be making itself more and more mysterious, with more and more “paperwork” (not all of it virtual and most of it clunky), and more and more secret-squirrel-like behaviour. Bureaucrats rarely, if ever, sincerely apologise for their mistakes.
The tedium and tyranny of bureaucracy are not new, of course. As the sociologist Max Weber said more than 70 years ago, “Every bureaucracy seeks to increase the superiority of the professionally informed by keeping their knowledge and intentions secret. Bureaucratic administration always tends to be an administration of ‘secret sessions’: in so far as it can, it hides its knowledge and action from criticism…” (Weber, Essays in Sociology, 1946, quoted in David Graeber 2015, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy).
There are a million other things I want to know but can’t find out. Every day, there’s something. Luckily, the internet helps with some of these. For example, in writing this post, I was reminded of a friend who always wondered why the streets weren’t littered with dead birds, since there are so many of them. I searched today and found the answer, which you can access here, if you’re interested.
Sadly, though, the internet won’t be able to help me find out why my old address crept back into a new order form four years later. Oh well.