When You Are the Karen

If you stare long enough into the abyss, sometimes the abyss asks to speak to the manager

Emma Lindsay


So, my partner and I are going to go hit up a couple’s therapist. Because of creepy online stalkers, I try not to write too much about my active relationships, but suffice it to say… we’re not going to a couple’s therapist because everything is going superb right now. In fact, we got some difficulties going on, some annoying, frustrating difficulties that have had me in and out of the doctor’s office, and at the end of my rope. (I just realized that makes it sound like I’m trying to get pregnant; it’s not that, more like painful gynecological issues.)

To add to it, my health insurance was cancelled because I set up auto-pay incorrectly so I had to call them to get it fixed (after a long game of phone tag, to see why my drs bills weren’t going through) then my car insurance company needed to like… talk to me on the phone? For some reason I don’t understand? At the end of the call, they were like “fantastic! We don’t need up update anything!” and I was like “so why did you waste my time with this call?” But anyway. I’m stressed, and I’ve been talking to a lot of customer service people on the phone in shitty or pointless situations.

So, to continue. My partner and I signed up for one of those online therapy things, and I need to fill in the intake form.

As this online service kept reminding me, over and over and over again, about this intake form.


So ok, fucking fine, I bit the bullet and filled in the intake form — with a lot of personal information and emotionally volatile stuff going in there, incidentally. It takes me an emotionally intense half an hour or so to fill it in.

But then, I can’t submit my form. Why?

They need me to select my “preferred pharmacy” and it’s a required field, so they won’t let me submit any part of the form without filling it in. The only thing is… the pharmacy field is broken. It’s using some busted javascript, so it’s not actually possible to select a pharmacy; every time you try, it just erases what you already put in.

For the record, I’m not going to need a prescription from these people; this is just part of their standard form boilerplate.

Fortunately, the company saved all the answers to my questions so I don’t need to re-write it, but they won’t let me submit my form until I pick my preferred pharmacy. Which it is not possible to do.

So, ok, I email them like “hey, your form’s broken. Can you just submit it for me or something?”

And they get back to me with an email like, “We see you still haven’t filled in your intake form yet! Can you please get this submitted before your first appointment? If you need technical support, please call as at 1–800-blahblah”

And that email just pushed me over the fucking edge.

I CAN’T fill in your fucking intake form! I KNOW I haven’t filled it in; I literally just emailed you TELLING YOU WHY I couldn’t fill it in.

And no, I don’t want to call your fucking tech support team. Every single fucking bureaucracy I’m working with right now wants a god damn hour or two on the phone with me, and yeah, maybe it doesn’t seem like a big ask to you — but you’re not the only one plying me with this shit. And, at the end of the day, I have like, 5 or 6 people I need to call to get my “issues” resolved — people who will then put me on hold for an unknown period of time, and when I get through to the other side there’s like, a 25% chance they’ll solve my problem, and a 75% chance they’ll explain to me why I need to call someone else.

But, that’s not the only reason this one put me over the edge. Oh no. There was one more thing about this one that really, really got to me.

And that is, I know how to fix their problem. See, I’m a programmer. I’ve been a programmer for like… 15 years or something now, and I’ve spent most of my time working on websites just like this one.

I’ve had to create many, many online forms, and sometimes my online forms have broken in very similar ways to this. What I also know is, this is probably actually a very easy fix. I have a suspicion, that if I had access to their codebase, I could fix their problem for them in less time than it would take me to explain the situation to a person on the tech support call. At the very least, I could make it no longer a required field.

But, I can’t fix their code. In fact, I actually *can’t even get an acknowledgement from this company that they know their website is broken.* Instead, I get a generic email back like “we assume you lack the technical literacy to correctly fill in an online form; please call our support team so they can condescendingly talk you through the process.”

Honestly? If they’d just said to me, “We’re sorry, we’re having some technical issues at the moment. Could you do us a favor and call 1–800-blahblah to get them sorted out?” I’d probably have just done it. But that feeling of being blamed, after getting nagged, and nagged and nagged by this company, to fill in a form that it was NOT POSSIBLE for me to fill in, for them to feel entitled to an hour of my life for their mistake, without even an acknowledgement of potential culpability on their side?

It activated Karen mode.

I responded to their email saying, “I hate calling tech support, and I feel like it’s not my fault your website is broken.” I then went on to take screenshots of the bug with replication steps, as if writing up a shitty bug report.

And then I felt bad.

Because the thing is, I know that the person reading this email isn’t really to blame for the problem. They’re probably underpaid, and also having a super shitty time. Also, if this website is as broken as it seems to be, they’re probably getting pummeled with emails from grumpy customers just like me.

And, of all people who should have known better than to write a sharp email, I should have known better. Because I’ve been on the other side of this before many, many times.

I’ve seen the customer support people at the companies I work for cry (usually the newer ones.) When I work for small companies, I will sometimes have the more difficult customers escalated to me so they’d feel special for talking to a dev. And, I always say the same thing — something like, “I really appreciate you taking the time to help me solve this technical problem! Can you talk me through the steps you went through when the website broke? This way, I’ll know how to fix it.”

Then, 9/10 the customer had done something really stupid — like, saving the incorrect password to their browser, then treating our customer service representative to a long tirade about how outrageous it was that our login functionality was broken.

So like, I get why customer service people assume I’m an idiot (and, honestly, maybe I am? Maybe there was a workaround I couldn’t see because I was so pissed off?) and I also get that they’re probably hella stressed out and dealing with all these grumpy fucking people.

But, here’s the thing; the way these conflicts that play out? They’re not really about the customer service person or the customer; they are a symptom of a larger, more broken society.

Simply stated, most companies are hella busted right now. There are many reasons for this — but one of the the most basic reasons is that managers and administrators are taking up a larger share of the profit margins at companies, and the people who provide actual necessary functionality — people like (say) the customer service representatives — keep getting squeezed harder and harder.

Call centers, in particular, have been re-designed to try to hire as few people as possible. Back in the day, you needed to hire enough people that someone was there to actually *answer the phone* when a customer called, but now, we have automated phone queues that the customer has to go through first. Those phone queues aren’t for the benefit of the customer; they’re for the benefit of the company who can now hire fewer customer service employees to answer the phone. But, one of the costs, is the customer now has to sit on the phone for longer without getting helped, and has to go through a stupid series of irrelevant options that wouldn’t be there if they could talk to a real person (“press 6 if you want me to repeat everything I’ve just said one more time.”)

The customer service employees themselves also get fucked over, because they now have to answer a higher volume of calls, and when the customer finally gets to talk to someone, they are far likelier to be in a significantly worse mood than if someone had just answered the phone up front.

And who benefits from this? Well, the higher ups at the company who get to pay themselves more, at the cost of customer experience and the wellbeing of the lower down employees. And, this is happening all over the place. We live in a society where — basically — the rich are getting richer, at the cost of of quality of life for “average” people. Now, of course, if I were rich, I’d never have to do any of this personally; I’d have a secretary or something who would handle it all for me.

But, I’m not rich so I have to do it myself. But the people who make the decision to build complicated phone trees that they’re going to force their customers to sit through? They’re the type of people who will never have to use these phone systems themselves. And, this is a small example of what represents a much larger trend in society:

Rich people get to make decisions that will force the rest us to do things we hate doing, but they will never have to do these things themselves.

And, the final interesting part of it is, while Karens may deserve some degree of the ire they get, you have to remember they are also not the ones who made the decisions to set the system up the way we have. You can hate on them (us?) as much as you want, but it will not help you when you’re on a 2 hour call with your bank because shaming a Karen for not handling a shitty situation well still shields some CEO, manager, or executive from the consequences of setting up the the shitty situation in the first place.

It’s a small example of how the ruling classes have turned us against each other, instead of against them — the people actually causing our problems. And, like a sucker, I fell for it today. Damn it.