projects about teaching blog subdivided dean terry


August 20, 2006

Destroy All Paper

We've been searching for a new place near the university where I teach for over a year. (For the reasons why we are moving, see Subdivided - an entire film about life in my current cold, uptight suburban neighborhood.)

destroy paper!After looking at fifty or sixty homes, we found one. (Remember, when you are looking, its a home, when you are selling, its a house; one is a place, the other a property. This distinction is supposed to provide the proper emotional distance depending on your situation).

We put in a bid on a remodeled sixties era traditional with plenty of room for (more) kids and (future) dogs. Lots of colleagues around, a 10 minute walk to the office and classrooms, and fairly walkable streets. All good. The search for a happy suburban existence that I thought was lost had been given new life.

The problem came when we went for the loan. We gathered documents, sent emails and faxes, scanned things, remembered all ten places we've lived in the past twenty years, sent blood, hair and fingernail clippings, etc. The loan was approved - except for this little matter of a tax lien from California from 1995.

Yes, 1995.

This had never shown up before on any credit report. And it only shows up on one of them.

After two days of phone mazes, automated robotic recordings and real people who sounded like automated robotic recordings, screaming, and testing the physical limits of all the phones within reach, I discovered that the entry was an error. And worse than an error, it was a fart of confused data.

The item on on the credit report - pay attention now - was for a lien from 1995 for a traffic ticket from 2003.

Yes, you read that right.

First I got to thinking it's either some distracted data entry person playing havoc with my file or some entropic database gumbo. Then I realized it was a new kind of credit reporting - a new "product," a feature: Premonition Based Credit Reporting.

We anticipate your future missteps by peering into the future. We know you are going to do something stupid pretty soon so we are going to punish you now.

So if you are a bank or an auto dealership or a furniture store looking to establish credit on customers, here's the pitch:
Want to know someone's credit history? We'll not only tell you the past, we'll let you in on the future. Should you give Janet Whatever here a loan for this mini-van? No, because she's going to bounce a check for $38 in seven years.

One of the credit reporting agencies has a website that invites you to call them if you have questions or need help, so I called them. They promtly direct you to the website, which then suggests you call them, and on and on. An infinite loop of nothing. Minimalist corporate avoidance.

You would think after these kinds of machine loops and phone trees I'd be pleased to talk to a human being. You'd be wrong. They were just as automated and performed with a bewildering level of inhumanity. Scripted, mechanical, routinized, policy driven. I've always wanted to develop my own policy in these situations. I would say something like "I'm sorry but in this situation it is my policy to tell you and your entire company to eat shit," and then, in a polite voice, ask "would you like for us to email you a copy of the policy?" ("Us" in this case representing me and my various and contradictory mental states, but that's another story.)

I live in the 21st century with it's blistering pace and always on culture, but in some places like state and city offices and credit reporting companies I have to slow to an aching crawl, search for things with my hands, and savor the adhesive glue on my tongue while waiting for weeks for a piece of paper to arrive from some musty beige filing cabinet in Norwalk California.

And where the hell are our electronic signatures?

While waiting for them, and for a noxious truck to deliver a piece of paper across the Western United States, we nearly lost the wonderful house we thought would give us a fresh start.

So, I say burn all paper documents. Make a deadline and burn them.

(Remember the last scene in Fight Club? It's starting to look like a very good idea.)

Posted by Dean Terry at August 20, 2006 12:10 PM

I don't have the words to express how elated I was when I finally moved from my "home" in a suburban concrete, everyone stay in you "homes" or your suvs, and don't talk or even look at your neighbor, "neighborhood" (well, I was in Plano) I just wanted to say Congrats! :) I would love to see your film Subdivided, but still have not managed. Missed the screening. Take care!Christine

Posted by: Christy at August 29, 2006 12:19 PM
What Do You Think?

Remember personal info?




This month's book