Real paper, real people | Inquirer Opinion
High Blood

Real paper, real people

The impending takeover by AI (artificial intelligence) of many business process outsourcing and customer service jobs is bad news for millennial call center agents, and nontechy dinosaurs like myself. Those of a certain age still prefer the tangible paper statements and utility bills. We validate past transactions, then safely file them away. It’s record-keeping, not hoarding. Filipinos who lack a sense of history would do well to cultivate this practice. Save more trees, emit less carbon by banning election campaign fliers and PVC tarps instead.

However, humongous corporations profiting off us disempowered multitudes are increasingly loath to grant us the courtesy of paper. After taking my widow’s mite for sketchy services, the gazillionaire telecoms further burden aging pensioners like myself by shifting the responsibility for printing out my phone bill, or they will charge me P50 for a copy.


Considering how awful our mobile services and internet are, for telecoms to demand that I go online to see how much I owe them for repeated fails only adds insult to greater injury—death by a thousand paper cuts each passing month.

On the human side, the push to go paperless (by those who can very well afford to give us our paper) disenfranchises more lowly bike messengers, and even slum nanays who insert bills and SOAs in window envelopes then sort them by zip code — just a few of the multitudes who scrounge along the broad societal margins for any means of livelihood in the fetid swamp of the underground economy upon which those gleaming glass and steel office towers perch. Do the corporate elite even practice true social responsibility by using the paltry pesos (in proportion to their profits) saved from their going paperless toward significant environmental programs or disaster mitigation efforts? I don’t mean those sporadic bursts of tree-planting, great as these are for the photo-op and the office team-building junket. The shoots rarely even reach the sapling stage. Calculate the carbon footprint from busing employees uniformly clad in corporate event T-shirts to the tree-planting site, with their PET water bottles, Styrofoam lunch kits and loot bags. CSR doesn’t consider giving unemployed Filipinos jobs to look after those trees, or even ensuring there was an accessible water source in the first place. Even at the La Mesa and Ipo Dam reserves, the foresters’ salaries are unconscionably delayed.


In tandem with going paperless is doing away with real people. Those automated voice responses with their hollowly perky attempts to sound human while enumerating a confusing menu of numerical choices, make us mistrust them even more. My octogenarian aunt is so freaked out by them that she makes a bigger carbon footprint with a trip to the bank to speak face to face with a real, hopefully sympathetic and efficient human.

There is phone banking, if only the largest phone company actually delivered with any consistency. Recently, I attempted for the nth time to report my perpetually malfunctioning line and got through to a person. She refused to send a repairman or to process a rebate despite my many reports of no service.  Instead, she suggested that I check my own line.  It seems she intended for me to clamber up my roof or shimmy up the telephone pole and, magically, instantly have all the skills of a trained electrician or engineer. Hija, I’m over 60 and I don’t do that. It didn’t matter. But she gave me a long reference number just the same. My mistake. She wasn’t human, after all.

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Menchu Aquino Sarmiento, 62, is an award-winning writer, visual artist and social concerns advocate.

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TAGS: artificial intelligence, High Blood, internet, Menchu Aquino Sarmiento, telecoms
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