Annie Lowrey – The Atlantic
Time is rarely the central measure of bureaucracy, and where it is considered at all the focus tend to be on total elapsed time rather than the time cost of complying with the process.
But time (which is also a proxy for complexity and cognitive load) is a massive, and sometimes deliberate, barrier to accessing services. That matters for the obvious reason that an impenetrable service is not a good service, and this article is a reminder that even now, as Lowrey puts it, ‘little attention is being paid to making things work, rather than making them exist.’
But there is also a more insidious effect, a dark pattern of dark patterns:
The time tax undercuts public confidence in government, turning people away from civic life. People think that government cannot work, because government does not work. So what reasonable person would trust government to work?
This article draws on US examples, but many of the points made are more general. As Vicky Teinaki has pointed out, in the UK the service standard at least has the intention of taking some account of the first problem, ensuring that things work as well as exist. But that doesn’t really address the underlying complexity of individual services, still less the fact that the interaction, or lack of one, between different services can be the greatest time sink of all.
Time always has a cost. But it is too often treated as an externality.