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Unintended Consequences

History is littered with examples of “unintended consequences” – those “outcomes of a purposeful action that are not intended or foreseen.” They also are sometimes referred to as “unanticipated” or “unforeseen” consequences.

In the end, it’s when someone (person, group of persons, or institution) acts to promote a particular end result and something completely unexpected ends up happening.

Here are two examples, both of which concern the world of communications.

The first has to do with the various tools that have been developed to improve our interpersonal communications. The cell phone (or smart phone) probably tops most people’s lists of these tools.

But, in this case, the phone is merely an instrument and, quite frankly, too easy of a target. The various tools we use to communicate via social media (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, are as much the culprits as they can used on devices other than a phone.

The intent of all this was to enable us to communicate better with those people with whom we come into contact in the courses of our daily lives.

Yet, one of the outcomes of this revolution is that actual, live, in-person communication has fallen off the end of the table. We’ve all experienced groups of people seated at the same table in a restaurant all on their phones simultaneously. Why would I want to speak with person seated across from me when I can text someone who is – God only knows where?

OK. Maybe that one was too easy. Let’s try another.

Our second example is also telephone based, but in a much different environment.

Websites were intended to provide information about people, organizations, institutions, etc. For the most part, the vast majority of them do just that. The problem arises when you need to speak to a human being. (Why on earth would you want to do that? – ed)

If you need to speak with someone and you don’t have their phone number, where to look? (Telephone directories are another casualty of the computer age. Granted that’s one that few people are mourning.) If you don’t know the phone number, go to their website and look it up.

Oh wait. It stands to reason that an organization would put its phone number on its website. Of course it does and virtually all of them have their numbers posted there. Just try and find them.

It might be on the “About Us” page. It might be on the “More information” or “Learn more” pages. If you’re fortunate enough to find a “Contact Us” page, you’ll probably find it there.

Or not. The “Contact Us” page might be an invitation to join their “Live Chat” and lots of luck getting a phone number from them. For the truly handicapped, the “Contact Us” page only may be a list of FAQs. Here’s a hint: don’t bother looking. There are no phone numbers listed there.

Then again, if you are fortunate enough to find a phone number, calling it will connect you with a recorded voice advising you that “our options have changed.” If you’re patient enough to withstand that, you’ll be automatically forwarded to an extension that is not available where you’ll asked to leave a message.

Given the obstacles and the time it takes to overcome them, actually connecting with another live, in-person human being would qualify as an “unintended consequence.”

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