26 April 2006

Top Ten Annoyances Of Modern Life

Progress is a mixed blessing, with steps backward often accompanying the improvements that it brings. For what it's worth, I do believe that progress, in the sense of French political theorist Condorcet of the improving welfare of the average person, materially and in intellectual opportunity, is real. Here is my current top ten list of the annoyances of modern living.

1. Beeps and Buzzes.

Is it the cell phone and if so, which one? Is it the burglar alarm indicating that a door has been opened? Is it the computer and, if so, what does that particular noise mean? Is it a Windows noise? A virus protection noise? A word processor noise? A power supply noise? Or, is it some noise triggered by the web browser? Is it the land line phone? Is it the intraoffice paging system? Is it the fax announcing that a fax has arrived, or been completed? Or, is the microwave telling me that its job is done? In my car is the sound telling me that I have failed to remove the face plate on my twice previously stolen stereo, that I have left the lights on, that I have failed to buckle my seat belt, or that the keys are still in the ignitions when the door is open? Gah! I just can't keep them all straight.

2. Free Services That Don't Work.

The Internet is a freeloaders dream. There are multiple free e-mail services, multiple free blogging platforms, and free Wi-Fi services dotted around every city. You'd be a chump to pay for any of this, except that, when Blogger goes down for 24 hours, or your e-mail account is acting up, or your free Wi-Fi connection stalls out, you can't really complain, as you didn't pay anything for it, even though it disrupts your life greatly.

3. Doctors That Charge More Than Your Insurance Policy Says They Should.

Your typical health insurance policy is drafted to tell you that they have agreements with doctors to accept their payment plus the co-pay stated in the plan. But, sometimes they don't. The amounts typically aren't huge. I was recently charged $49 for a service that my plan said was subject to a $25 co-pay, under a policy with my former insurance policy. But, often the insurance company says that this is between you and the provider, and the provider says it is between you and the insurance company. Doctors also routinely have you sign forms that make you personally responsible for everything that the insurance company is supposed to pay and send you multiple annoying collection letters when the insurance company is slow in paying them, as is often the case. But, if, like me, you work in a business where you are paid by clients who pay by the hour, it is hard to justify the hours a hassling with insurance companys and doctor's billing services over $24 overcharges, and keeping your credit good, and your relationship with someone who may need to take care of you in the future are considerations as well.

4. Phone Companies That Point Fingers At Each Other.

If you ever have a dispute over your phone bill, or your phone service, or a telecommications service provider switch gone wrong, inevitably, you are placed in the middle of several large publicly held companies who all say that the screw up was someone else's fault, even when it clearly wasn't your fault and someone screwed up. Once again, the stakes are so low, that it is hard to justify the effort that goes into fighting it for any length of time, even when you have been clearly screwed.

5. Pennies.

As a result of centuries of inflation, pennies are not worth enough to buy anything, aren't accepted in vending machines or parking meters, cost more to mint than they are worth, and weigh down your wallet. Until the U.S. went off the gold standard, a penny was worth about what a quarter is worth today, and a nickle bought more than a dollar does today. Now, it is hard to find vending machines and parking meters that accept even nickles or dimes.

6. Predatory Gas Stations.

There are two gas stations on my way to work along Speer Boulevard. One is on the triangle of land formed by Speer, Grant and 6th Avenue. The other is about three blocks to the East on Speer, and is the one you pass first on your way to downtown. The first one, just out of sight of the second one, is almost always ten cents a gallon more expensive than the second one.

A similar pair of gas stations, with a similar price differential is found on Southbound Colorado Boulevard between Exposition and Florida. The first is much more expensive than the second.

In short, the first gas station, in each case, is pretty much exclusively designed to exploit people who haven't figured out this scheme. Grrr!!!!!

7. The REAL ID Act.

The next time I go to get my driver's license renewed, thanks to the Congressional mandate of the REAL ID Act, I will have to bring with me a boat load of paperwork establishing facts that I have never had to prove before, and so will the dozens of people in line with me, except that, at least one in five of them won't realize that they need all this extra paperwork and will therefore bicker with clerks for eons only to storm away angry while they try to gather up paperwork that they may not have in their possession at all, like birth certificates, before coming back. Moreover, even the people who do have all of their paperwork in order will take longer to process, and neither Federal grants nor state funds will increase the staffing of driver's license bureaus sufficiently to deal with this massive increase in workload for this departments that have recently seen significant TABOR based budget cuts, so the clerks will be cranky and the waits will be interminable.

8. Spam.

Does anyone actually buy the Viagra I get ads for twelve times a day? Or the watches? Or send money to Nigera? Or take the lame brained investment advice that comes into my in box (and every other in box in the office) every morning? My office probably spends three-quarters of an hour a day deleting the crap, but, since we have to be able to receive messages from strangers, like constituents, political alerts, opposing attorneys and the like, we can't have a very rigid spam filter either.

Sometimes the costs in indirect as well. Word verification has addressed much of the blog spam that was common before I implemented it (and so did many other bloggers), but the result is extra hassle every time I want to post a common or blog post.

9. School Fund Raisers.

My parents hated school fund raising sales when my brother and I were growing up, and so did I back then. Now, my kids are in school and the cycle of life repeats itself. Only, now it happens more often, several times a year. Why must a desire to do cold call selling of stuff no one needs to friends and neighbors be linked with caring about your children's education?

10. Accidentally Deleted Files and Bad Spell Check Programs.

Few things in life are more annoying than spending half an hour or more writing a blog post or a legal brief or a letter or a lengthy e-mail, only to have a technical glitch or time out or save as issue or misplaced mouse delete all of your efforts. A related user interface issue is the spell checking feature of many progerams. Often they give you ridiculous suggestions for correct spellings, or worse, convice you that a correctly spelled word that is not in its vocabulary is misspelled, tempting you you change it.

Well, have a nice day and enjoy the aspects of progress that aren't annoying.


Cassie Schoon said...

I hate school fundraisers. What always made it worse for me was that my parents were agnostic and worked in small businesses for the most part, so I never had that huge network that other kids had to sell stuff. No church, few coworkers. And they'd refuse to use either of those anyway, because they are liberals and have integrity and told me that it was my own responsibility to sell the stuff myself.

What I can't understand, though, is that everyone hates school fundraisers, but nobody wants to pay for their kids to go to school- neither through taxes or through private school tuition. Yet they drive $80,000 SUVs to drop their little snotlings to the public school. What the hell?

Sorry to rant, but school funding is a huge hot button issue for me. Considering that I spent six grades in CO public schools- funded better than Arkansas and NOBODY else.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

FWIW, I wish more of the people driving t hose $80,000 SUVs would drop their little snotlings to the public school. One of the problems we have in Denver is that 10,000+ kids who live in the district don't go to school there. This leaves DPS with empty school buildings and $60 million+ fewer dollars per year to operate. It also skews test scores down creating a vicious cycle. And, having a large percentage of the school levy voting population that is either childless (in part because families with kids often head to the suburbs for other schools) or doesn't send their kids to the local public schools, doesn't help school tax issues pass.