In 1987, the software company Infocom released Bureaucracy, a text-based game scripted by Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Imagine you’ve just landed a great new job and are about to be sent to Paris for a training seminar and vacation. “What could possibly go wrong?,” the brochure accompanying the game asks. “The answer, of course, is everything.”

It all starts when your bank mishandles your change-of-address form. One thing leads to another and soon you find yourself drowning in rules that are confusing at first sight and plainly absurd upon closer consideration. You learn, for instance, that “you must file your change-of-address form at least two months, but no sooner than six weeks, before your moving date.” Trying to make sense of that, you are left scurrying for the help of customer-service representatives, who are “frequently available” during normal business hours. All the while, the game tracks fluctuations in your blood pressure. Let it rise above a certain level, and you may die.

Bureaucracy is so baffling that it can be funny—until of course it isn’t. Millions of people rely on public assistance to make ends meet. When rent, medical insurance, and personal dignity are in the balance, absurdity stops being comical and starts being terrifying.

The popular conception of bureaucracy is familiar. There are of course the rules: innumerable, entangled, often impenetrable. There are the stiff waiting rooms: white, fluorescent-lit, with rows of identical chairs and gray partition panels. Above all, perhaps, there are the people, the infamous bureaucrats. They are the supposedly human face of the state—cold, distant, unconcerned. Of all the ills of bureaucracy, they might be the worst. They look without seeing, they listen without hearing, and they proclaim decisions that can change people’s lives with the indifference of a butcher slicing a …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Business

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