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COLUMN: Businesses cutting corners cost us precious time

'Where have all the people gone who provided some sort of personal service?'
Chris Nelson
Columnist Chris Nelson

Most folks today know about inflation, deflation, and stagflation. A fair number likely have also heard about shrinkflation — smaller packages of stuff on sale at the same price. But there are few indeed who understand timeflation.

Perhaps that’s because I just made up that particularly ugly word. The next sentence might help bring it painfully into focus.

“We apologize for the wait time, but we are experiencing higher call volumes than normal. We appreciate your patience.”

Ah yes: that all-too-common lived experience of waiting on the phone for an actual homo sapien to one day pick up and talk words back at you. Of course, these days we face the additional indignity of being forced to train a daft robot whilst on hold, fuming in total frustration.

“How can I help you today,” it asks, in a tone so velvet it could be press-ganged into chairing Ukraine/Russia peace talks. (It usually tells you its name as well, as though expecting some bonding moment in return for using up our time teaching it how to become a better slice of artificial intelligence.)

In vain we hit "zero" on our various not-so-smart-after-all-phones, trying to flee this dreadful digital universe we’re trapped within. Ever wise to our tricks, those controlling the metaverse are now merrily boarding up that final escape hatch. 

So yes, while the word timeflation might still sound a bit weird, I reckon we’re on the same sad page from this point onward, because the relentless drive to make us do more of the work once included in the price is approaching a meltdown moment. How much more of the load are we supposed to carry? 

We pump our own gas, we bank online, we assemble the kid’s bike that came in a box from China, and we not only bag our own groceries but also are pushed into first running them through some stupid scanner that invariably can’t discern a clearly visible bar code on our much-needed package of toilet roll. 

This storm has been gathering for a while. But the whole dreary pandemic has given one almighty push to the trend whereby you do the heavy lifting that was once part of the deal.

Where have all the people gone who provided some sort of personal service? 

There are too few staff to get us on aircraft or handle our luggage at the airport, nobody to provide passports in a timely manner, not enough teachers for our kids, or doctors and nurses to deal with the mammoth backlog of medical necessities COVID has left us with. Plus, as already mentioned, any organization answering its own phones is a quaint relic of an increasingly distant past.

Time is money, as they say. So today, it’s your time used and their money saved. It’s the most insidious form of inflation around: one usually slipping under our radar but nevertheless all too real.

Chris Nelson is a long-time journalist. His columns on Alberta politics run monthly in the St. Albert Gazette.


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