Steve Eaton: If you’ve ever struggled with a password or been stuck in voice mail prison, press 1

Published: Saturday, Sept. 1 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

If I were very, very rich, I would hire a team of scientists and experts to prove that I’m not crazy.

I wouldn’t want them to probe my head for mental illness, but I would be asking them to just observe me while I typed passwords and filled out forms online.

There would be computer nerds, behavior shrinks, videographers and pizza delivery guys all there to create and witness these experiments. They would all sit around and watch me type a simple password into an anticustomer screen.

At first they would be skeptical, but as they devised more and more sophisticated experiments, their fascination would grow. They would eventually have to acknowledge that I live my life in my own little computer Bermuda Triangle.

When it comes to online forms that require you to fill out page after page of details, it is truly a lost cause for me.

Why is it that if you leave a period off an email address or a comma out of a series, it doesn’t just ask you to correct the offending line on the form?

No, all the data you have entered is erased and you must start again from scratch. Do they hire people to develop these systems and then never check to see what they’ve created?

You might think that you could reason with the online powers that be, except that you’d have to hire a Web-savvy detective to find a phone number.

Once you find a phone number, you are sent to voice mail prison where all problems or questions you have must fit into four categories.

Let’s say that your copier repair guy comes and while he is there you think he accidentally took your wallet because he drove off in your car.

You call the number he gave you and you find yourself listening to a suite of possible issues you could have, but none of them has anything to do with renegade repair people.

I would love to understand the thought process that not only established such systems but allowed them to stay in place.

I imagine a scene in a board room at a company that makes iWidgets.

CEO Frumpbucket: People, our sales are down last quarter and this is unacceptable. We had hoped our new emphasis on customer service would make a difference and yet our profits continue to slide. Need I remind you that if we don’t get a competitive edge, we will not be in business much longer. Any ideas?

Gordon is new to the company and is sitting in a back corner, nearly invisible to the first-string executives around the table but he raises his hand anyway.

CEO Frumpbucket: Yes, you in the back.

Gordon: Ah, what if we tried … talking to our customers?

Loud laughter.

CEO Frumpbucket: OK, next on the agenda, how can we make our online frequently asked questions page longer?

It seems clear that most companies don’t want you to even get as far as voice mail prison and that they would rather you spend the day going through their frequently asked questions section.

If you had all day, you could scroll through a list of 1,150 questions to see if you can find an answer to the one you have: “My blender is emitting a cloud of blue smoke, even after it’s unplugged, that has, so far, killed my parakeet, my cats and wilted all the flowers in the house. What do I do?”

It makes me wonder how effective we would all be if we required each interaction with our family to begin with a password that includes three numbers, a swear symbol like # or & and some other word. And what if all our interactions had to fit in one of four categories?

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