“MA’AM hindi pa kumpleto ang registration n’yo kung wala pa kayong QR code… Ay opo, naka-down po ang system namin… madami na nga po nag complain, pero nag-crash po kasi andaming gusto mag-register… wala po talaga kaming ma-offer na ibang solution.. .. paki-try nalang po ulit, kahit pa madaling araw.”
The lady on the other end of the line was earnest and willing to help, but her hands were tied without the blessed QR code that the agency required in order to proceed to the next step of the application for an ID.
And well, when technology fails then there’s not much else to be done but wait. Or, as she counseled, give up sleep to try and get it done.
It’s pretty admirable that many systems are now turning hi-tech with computerized procedures and QR codes galore, but let’s face it, without the necessary power supply, hardware and IT capability, or a way to predict user volume, all these “glamorous” environmentally-friendly, paperless, slowly-emerging-from-the-third-world systems will just end up for show, and we’ll be proceeding at a slower pace than if we had stuck to filling out multiple forms by hand.
How often have we seen this at work? Those newfangled computerized immigration stickers at the airport? Only three, at best, five terminals for planeloads upon planeloads of passengers descending on the terminal all at the same time. And Filipinos who have not set foot in the country since they left twenty or ten or even just two years ago, bleary-eyed from jetlag and weighed down by hand-carried pasalubong and maong jackets, bungle their way through the machine, through the automatic camera, through the turnstile, resulting in one delay on top of another.
E-commerce platforms and all the online banking solutions that are supposed to help us breeze through our everyday needs without fuss, and yet only end up causing anxiety when we’re not sure if the order or bills payment went through twice, or if at all. Or even if we’re certain that it did, why the system has not registered it, resulting in suspension of service or non-delivery of some highly-anticipated goods. Never mind waiting excitedly for something, after having paid ahead, only to receive notice that it is out of stock or the price increase had not been reflected on the site.
To be sure these are small inconveniences, and on the best days, they will remain that. But it is nevertheless enough to cause a little irritation and some ruffled feathers. There are some people who know their way around technology and systems and a series of buttons to be pressed, assuming the programs work at all. And then there are others who are at a complete loss at a process made so abstract and that leaves one without any coupon to hold on to and to surrender at a later time. Still, others are just terrified by machines and the fact that they seem to have a mind of their own.
Personally, on any given day, I can relate with any one of these types of people. I can order groceries and medicine, knitting needles, and curing salts for the homemade sausages I want to try with relative ease. I am a little less confident when it comes to buying airplane tickets or booking hotel rooms, or just the general idea of spending a lot of money on something I can’t immediately get my hands on. And I am totally frozen in fear at the thought of having to work on a big piece of equipment (anything bigger or more complicated than a home printer would fall under this category).
I am taken back to very early expatriation days, twenty years ago, in a first-world country where three such big machines proved to be my undoing. I caused a bit of a flood in the kitchen by using the wrong liquid cleanser in the dishwasher. I was (and still am) much more comfortable doing the dishes by hand, even better if there was a helper to relieve us of the chore, and until we moved away, we had never owned a dishwasher. I’m not sure it was even locally available in the Philippines that early on.
We did not immediately know what dryer lint was, thinking it must have been some kind of filter the way air conditioners back home had filters that needed replacing. And so we carefully scraped off the pad of lint (yes, that much had collected) and rolled it up, intending to take it to the appliance shop. Luckily, we hired a Filipina cleaning lady who first laughed at our mistake then explained that what we had properly saved was in fact meant for the trash and that we could’ve caused a little fire had we not cleared it when we did.
Finally, on a foray out into the city to get some papers photocopied, I stood in line and discovered to my horror when I got to the machine that I was meant to do it myself. I had to ask the crotchety lady behind the counter to help me figure out the buttons, and she barked at me, asking why an adult would not know how to work a copier. Thankfully, I knew enough in her language to reply: “Back home, we pay people to do this for us!”
That was not exactly the proudest moment of my expatriation experience, to be confronted and made to feel stupid by a machine, nor to be confronted by the thought that I was defensive over not knowing how to work it. But it is true that in our country where machines and software programs are too expensive to be had in abundance, people are discouraged from learning how to work it and instead only one technician, or at best, some library manang, is trained to use it and jiggle it in the right places when it locks up. Perhaps this is one of the reasons the end-user is simply advised: “paki-try nalang po ulit, kahit pa madaling araw.”