• Saturday, May 10, 2014


Okay, I’m a busy psychiatrist. I have a bunch of stuff (and people) to worry about. Not much different I guess than most folk. How do I know it’s time to write? In my gut is a familiar un-haute blend of emotion. It could be described as a mixture of angst + frustration + a sense of lack of control + adaptive attempt at humor and culminating in a desire to simply drop the task altogether.

Thank you for asking. I wanted to tell you about it. The emotional state described above is simply the trigger to ventilate.

So we live in a “connected” world. It is a world of information overload and instant world-wide communication. What’s your weapon of choice for staying aware of change and feeling “connected?” Is it Twitter, ordinary E-mail (which in itself seems extraordinary), Facebook, Linked-In, Cellular Phones? Probably we all use more than one.

All this seems so distant from postal letters sent via trans-oceanic mail – remember (or not) Par Avion ? That was the parlance for mail sent in an airplane. Today’s world of communication is somewhat different from growing up talking to people on telephones with “party-line” service. (Some of you may not even know what is meant by the term “party line.” It was a telephone line shared by more than one household and you had to wait until it was not being used by your neighbors to use it yourself. Sometimes neighbors just listened in on your conversations so they would know what’s going on. Other times you might have to ask if they could curtail their conversation in order for you to make an urgent call.)

Indeed change is occurring with such accelerating rapidness that admittedly, I am glad I don’t have another lifetime to live. I suspect I would find myself spending more time “adjusting” than actually enjoying life.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the big T (technology) and all its benefits. In fact, technology is enabling me to ventilate via writing this article and getting it out to you – people “all over this land.” And this land now consists of the entire world. Really – did I just say the entire world?

Intrusion into otherwise happy life: ATT (a very large communications corporation) sends us a letter. ‘Your office contract of 36 months will expire on 16 May. You need to contact this office.’ It does not provide for a consequence. Rather, the letter lets you wonder ‘Or else what?’ Let’s see, they could cut off our office phone lines? That would not be good for business.

My wife, a real people person loved by all, tries to remedy the situation. The person at the other ends starts talking “Geek” to her. It’s hard for her to compare Geek to Apples and Oranges. Ann (my darling wife) still remembers the last incident where we were persuaded to change plans and ended up paying more than the prior plan despite the so called “savings.” She therefore asked me, rightfully, to look into the situation.

Well, I called 4 times (despite it being a vacation day) and each time I was told that all of Santa’s Helpers were busy.

“If you wait, your call will be taken in the order it was received.” I wondered to myself if I am next up, or if I am the last in a list of 100? Not having any way of knowing I hung up for the first 3 times. On the 4th call, I decided I would utilize speakerphone and attempt to do something else while waiting. This worked and someone eventually answered the phone. Meanwhile, I was not sitting like a statue with the handset at my ear feeling as if I was a worthless person having nothing to do except to waste precious moments of my lifetime.

But, everything is so complex. After 2 hours of browsing ATT’s website and 30 minutes talking with Charles (I’m certain he must have a last name but he did not offer it.) I was even more perplexed. Charles required my “approval” for him to discuss a competing company, Comcast. Oh yes, the entire conversation was also recorded. (That’s the topic for another future article – HIPAA regulations.)

So, I want you to really get the picture. My job was simple – just keep the office phones from going off and be certain we don’t get fleeced.

Yet, so far, the simple task has taken hours of time between my wife and I being on the phone and perusing ATT’s website which probably has 1,000+ pages. My conversation with ATT staff is recorded as if I might be a terrorist.

And during the conversation about phone lines, the salesman introduces the importance of adding Internet service into the bundle. By the way, there was no fine print to examine because we were having a telephone conversation. I did ask if he could send an email to me with all the stats. He was not certain if he could do that (natch). After speaking with his supervisor they decided they could send an email once I had made up my mind about a plan.

I ended up making no decisions. Before I can make a good decision I realized I have to undergo a similar de-humanizing wasting time experience with Comcast.

Otherwise, I won’t have enough information to make a good decision about the Internet aspect of the service.

Making a good decision is the ultimate satisfaction for me. With pride I think to myself that I took on the big corporations I won (as if that is truly possible.) Making a bad decision is hard to accept. It would require me to repeat the entire process But don’t we all have things to do? Exposing one’s self to this battle of decision making should come with a governmental warning. “Caution – dealing with large corporations for personal services can be disruptive to daily accomplishments and to your mental wellbeing.” It is precisely because of this danger that once I make the decision, I go for the longest term contracts. Could anybody put up with on an annual basis?

Well, you now have the particulars of what occurred. But internally I realize as our mutual dependency and world connectedness grows, we individuals lose privacy and control over our lives. The day of chopping down our own Christmas Trees appears gone. Increasingly, we have to depend upon huge corporations for “the everything.” These corporations are vested in growing themselves, not in being “neighborly.” The new society and its technology is advancing uncomfortably fast. What it leaves behind is a way of life that was perhaps more kind, more human, more manageable and arguably less stressful

“ShrinkThink” is the pen name of John F. Abess, M.D. Dr. Abess is a psychiatrist in the medical community of Charleston, S.C. He enjoys practicing psychiatry and finds people fascinating. His creative outlets include writing and being a musician. His greatest treasure is his family. Dr. Abess is also a consultant to individuals and corporations. His website is http://abess.com

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