Our world is changing fast, and I think the pace of those changes is going to accelerate (and for the worse). Here are three quick anecdotes from my own personal life in the past few days; they aren’t really related except inasmuch as it shows the the tradition of human beings doing jobs seems to be on its way “out”.
The Bank Squirrel
As I suspect is the case with most of you, I do virtually all my banking online. There’s no real point physically going to a branch anymore. However, last year I saw that Citibank was literally giving away free money, and I wanted to take advantage of it. They were paying a $700 bonus for opening a $50,000 savings account, with the only requirement being that you had to leave the money in there for 60 days. I therefore opened a bunch of accounts for myself and various family members (since obviously one person is limited to just a single account for the promotion).
I’ve used many different banks over the years. My experience with this one was pretty poor, and most of it has to do with a very high-strung woman there named Jean. She always seems like she’s had fifty espressos, but it seems to take her half an hour to do any five minute task. It was kind of comic at first, but it gets annoying after a while. Even her co-workers seem to be aware of this.
I finally gave up when the $700 bonus I was supposed to get never happened. She tried to explain why to me, repeatedly, but her accent is extremely thick, and I honestly couldn’t tell what she was saying. I decided just to abandon my $700 bonus altogether and close the account, which I did.
The funny thing is that, during the process of setting up these accounts, I had to deal with Jean on a number of occasions, and I quickly gave her the nickname “squirrel”, because that’s the kind of vibe she threw off. Just rushing around at top speed, but never really getting much of anything done. She reminds me of an instance, decades ago, when I was at the Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) one Saturday. There was a woman there who was hard at work, and to make conversation, I asked her what she was working on. “I’m finishing up a presentation on working efficiently.” I couldn’t help myself, so I immediately replied, “Is that why you’re here on a Saturday night?” She didn’t have an answer.
The coda to this is when I closed out my account at Citibank, since I was so frustrated at getting gypped out of my $700 bonus. I had withdrawn the money electronically and there was $0.00 left. Squirrel told me I had to come in and sign paperwork, however, or else they’d charge me $15 per month until the end of time for having an insufficient balance.
So I reluctantly drove downtown, parked, and went to see Squirrel. I figured I’d just sign it and go. Nope. I spent twenty minutes in there as she was scurrying around, saying the exact same two or three sentences to her poor colleagues over and over again. There were three employees at the branch, and every one of them – – 100% of their staff – – had to get involved at the same time to execute this apparently incredibly complex act of closing an account with zero dollars in it.
Back in the 1980s, I spent an ungodly amount of time at shopping malls, since my girlfriend (now wife) liked to browse the high-end stores at Stanford Shopping Center and the like. I quickly developed the ability to walk a few paces behind her, reading a book, and never having to look where I was going (and this is some serious navigation going on; keep in mind we’re weaving our way through racks of clothes, shoe shelves, other shoppers, and so forth). More than a few clerks got a kick out of seeing this always-reading boyfriend slavishly following his pretty girlfriend around.
Since the advent of online shopping, we go to the mall literally never, and it had been years since she had been to one. However, an old family friend was retiring from working at the Apple store at the Stanford shopping center, so we were going to attend a “clapping out” ceremony that they were going to do in his honor.
Since we were at the mall anyway, I decided to go into Bloomingdale’s to see if they could fix the clasp on a piece of our daughter’s jewelry. Now, again, I hadn’t been in Bloomingdale’s for years and years, and I was truly surprised by what I saw.
First, there were very few personnel on the floor. I had been accustomed to high-end stores being packed with employees. In this case, though, there was just a tiny sprinkling of personnel. In fact, in the jewelry area, which was thousands and thousands of square feet, there was one, count ’em, one guy. I could hardly believe it. Whatever warmth might have come from person-to-person shopping in the past was quite clearly gone. And this wasn’t some crappy Kohl’s. This was the nicest large store in the already high-end Stanford shopping center, and yet there was hardly any staff.
The other thing that surprised me even more was that every single employee was just playing with their phone. Every. Single. One. They clearly could not have cared less about their role there. They were just doing their time. It was pretty sad. If I was actually there to shop (which I can’t imagine I would be), I would almost feel guilty “interrupting” any of these people to get some assistance.
This last bit isn’t about employees but is instead about the real-life effects of the whoel supply chain mess we all keep hearing about.
All our appliances are from the German manufacturer Miele, and this is the case for our dishwasher, which has served us for so many years I can’t remember how old it is. It has cleaned literally thousands of loads. Recently, however, it stopped working altogether, so after I tried everything I could to fix it, within my limited skill set, I paid a plumber to come out.
He managed to coax it into doing one load, but after that, it gave up the ghost. I decided it was time to get a new dishwasher. and I was perfectly willing to spend the $2400 to get a nice new Miele to replace our old busted one. However, the quantity of Miele appliances available in the Bay Area is precisely zero.
This is where something as abstract as “supply chain woes” hits home (literally). It also shows how it truly affects the economy. Here I am, a good old American consumer, ready to shell out thousands of dollars, cheerfully, for a product. And yet there IS no product. I spoke to one appliance store here that said they’ve been turning away business since last September (they sell high-end appliances, so you can imagine the impact on their business).
There isn’t any. It’s just that I sense things are truly broken in this country. Disaffected employees, incompetent personnel, and empty warehouses. This is real life. Things have changed for the worse, and I think it’s here to stay.