Not So High-Tech

I tried to get deposit slips from a well-known financial institution for almost a month. I’m pleased with all the services and features, except this one thing. They wouldn’t send me more deposit slips. I finally received them two weeks after contacting a vice president. Considering that I first requested replacement slips over two months ago, it’s rather amazing that I have to send them money in care of a vice president with a cover letter because they can’t get around to sending me replacement slips. After all, shouldn’t we be able to do better in our computerized high-tech society?

Sadly not, I have to conclude. While we have progressed immensely in our ability to move information and electrons around, our infrastructure for moving much of anything else seems to be on the decline. Another example is mail. My mother lives a ten hour drive from me. I can get to her house almost entirely on interstate highways, with only a quarter mile drive from my house to the interstate and a mile from the interstate to her house. So why, exactly does it take 4-5 days on a regular basis for the U.S. Postal Service to get a letter in either direction? Since 1950, the consumer price index has increased some 760%, that is, the average of all consumer goods costs more than 7 ½ times what the same goods did in 1950. The cost of a first class postage stamp is up 1233%, or more than twelve times what a stamp cost in 1950. In 1950, the vast majority of first class mail was delivered within three days, and many cities still had twice a day deliveries — and the Post Office wasn’t running a deficit. To get a chance at three-day delivery now will cost you a minimum of $4.60.

It’s not just the U.S. Postal Service, either. Last year, we ordered a loveseat from a well-known furniture manufacturer — and this is often necessary because we live many miles from any significant furniture retailer — and it took eight weeks to get it. It arrived broken, and another five weeks passed before we received a replacement.

I just returned from ICFA [the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts], where three boxes of books sent from various publishers — with tracking numbers — had failed to arrive, and two different “overnight” shipping companies had no idea where they were. Then, there is the business of stocking supermarket shelves. Why is it that they always run out of one brand of tea, or one brand of potato chips, week after week, month after month, and never stock more of that brand? Is it incompetence? Or merely a stock and price fixing arrangement that might violate any decent antitrust legislation? Speaking of which, why can’t the techno-whizzes who create all those stock-trading algorithms come up with something that might flag more precisely insider trading or fraudulent mortgage lending?

I won’t mention — except in passing — the state of airline baggage. But I will ask why we seem to have more trouble delivering “stuff” and finding it when we have more technology than ever before at our fingertips and why so little of that technology is employed to deal with the nagging glitches in life.