I love a good bureaucracy as much as the next person, which is to say, not at all.
And I yield to no one in my hatred and suspicion of all things computerized.
Yet, there are moments that shake me.
For example, just the other day I found myself on the phone with a robot, which took advantage of the opportunity to tell me, “I can understand complete sentences.”
I resisted the temptation to test it by telling it what it could do to itself, and hung up.
But recently, it occurred to me that maybe the best thing to do with each of these abominations — bureaucrat, and talking robot — is to sic them on each other!
That thought occurred to me as I was leaving the Department of Motor Vehicles office, defeated in what I thought was a simple request, and utterly baffled as to what had even gone wrong.
All I had wanted to do was trade in some bashed-up and filthy old license plates for a pair of new ones, so I could put them on a car my husband and I were about to buy.
Unfortunately, nowhere on any of the DMV’s paperwork was there a form or a box for that exact transaction. I could get new plates for a new car; or turn in old plates I no longer needed; or pay a chunk of change for vanity plates that might as well say “Ticket me first”… but nowhere could I simply exchange old plates for new.
So I wasn’t completely ready when it was my turn to step up to the window.
“How can I help you, today?”
“I’m not sure. I can’t find the right box to check, but I want to turn in these banged-up license plates, in exchange for new ones.”
“We’ll need to see your car’s registration.”
“That’s the thing: I can’t exactly do that. Not yet. You see, these plates are kind of ‘between cars.’
The car they were on got into a little fender bender, and was declared a total loss. So we gave the car to the insurance company, and all that’s left of it are these plates.”
“Then why do you need new plates?”
“Because now we’re buying a new car — well, an almost-new car — from a friend. But I don’t want to use these plates on it. They’re so bent up and gritty, they’ll probably scratch its bumper. So I was hoping I could change them in for new ones. I’ll pay the fee.”
“We’ll need title deed and insurance for the new car.”
“Weren’t you listening? I don’t have it yet.”
“Then we can’t give you new plates.”
“Then how am I supposed to get it home? Drive it home ‘naked,’ with no plates at all? I can just see how that will turn out — I’ll have a ticket from every police car on the island! Last time, when we bought a new car, this was all handled by the dealer; but surely you have some kind of system for ordinary citizens?”
“Ma’am, this is the only ‘system’ there is.”
Suddenly, I had a thought. “I know. Here’s the registration and insurance for the old car. Let’s just say I’m getting new plates for that.”
“But you told me you’ve turned it in.”
“Let’s pretend I didn’t.“
“I can’t do that.”
“So, what do you suggest? Helicopters? Magic? You’re leaving me with a car I can’t bring home! How are you going to solve that?”
“Ma’am, with all due respect, that is not our problem.”
“I know. It’s my problem. And so are you.” And I walked out before I could say something worse. Here I was, trying to comply with every stupid regulation, but there was no solution.
How, I wonder, might a robot have solved it?
“So, Robot: what you’re telling me is, I can’t get the plates unless I first have the car, but I can’t get the car unless I first have the plates for it. ”
“Yes. It is a veritable Catch-22.”
“That was an excellent movie.”
“Yes…which, as you know was based on the novel of the same name by Joseph Heller.”
“A truly great novel. Say, where were we?”
“You were requesting replacement plates. Here they are. My cousin, Maker-Bot, has just printed them up for you in a 3-D printer. Use them in good health.”
“I will do that, Awesome Robot!”
“You are welcome, Crazy Judy.” Finally! Technology I can live with — and in complete sentences!