A new twist on “Press or say ‘one’ if …”

First, let’s lay down a marker by flashing back to the late Steve Jobs.

One of the things that bothered Steve Jobs was the time that it took to boot when the Mac was first powered on.

To motivate the designers, Jobs reportedly exhorted them:

“If it could save a person’s life, would you find a way to shave ten seconds off the boot time?”.

The engineer allowed that he probably could.

Jobs went to a whiteboard and showed that if there were five million people using the Mac, and it took ten seconds extra to turn it on every day, that added up to three hundred million or so hours per year that people would save, which was the equivalent of at least one hundred lifetimes saved per year.

A few weeks later the engineer had the Mac booting up twenty-eight seconds faster.

Keep that story in mind the next time that a digitized phone answerer asks you to “press or say 1 for English; press or say 2 for Spanish”.

Not a big deal, right?

It only takes about 5 seconds to work thru the prompts.


But take Jobs rules and multiply the 5 seconds times a few million calls per day getting the prompt and you’ve got a statistically significant number of “lost lives” … or at least, lost productivity.

Rather than getting better, it’s getting worse.

I have proof.

I had to call my health insurance company this week.

I should have expected what was to come.

First, the obligatory 1 for English, 2 for Spanish.

That linked me to a 2nd prompt:

“Press or say 1 if you are an Affordable Care Exchange customer, otherwise press or say 2.”


Another 5 seconds … and another couple of hundred lives.

Where’s Steve Jobs when we need him?


PS While the call prompts drive me nuts, I like my health insurance plan and want to keep it.

My call was answered promptly once I pressed 1… and then 2.

I wonder if the folks who pressed or said 1 to the 2nd question are still waiting in the call queue?

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