Most readers of this blog will remember, with only the faintest nostalgia, the following watersheds along the timeline of communication and information dissemination:
・Carbon copy paper
・Postage stamps (these are not relics . . . yet, although I am grateful for them because they helped put food in my belly, clothes on my back, and a roof over my head as a child)
With this small list in mind I offer the state of Arizona kudos for not only embracing some of them still, but also for its impressive efforts to encompass the breadth of human communication forms since chisel was first put to stone.
We are some years along since Al Gore invented the internet, and the web has offered us some disadvantages and some stunning efficiencies. Consider that we can not only download fillable PDF tax return forms but can electronically file those same documents, with no shortage of important personal information on them; in Arizona we can renew our vehicle registrations online, again with all the pertinent personal data in tow; we can manage our financial concerns online; and the whopper–the federal government has mandated that if you don’t have medical insurance you must sign up via the web and get it–this naturally requires a slew of personal information to be divulged.
There are no shortage of entities which can find us when it’s time for jury duty, send us gentle reminders if we miss a payment, or send any other marketing based upon our current residence and/or age.
No secret . . . we are ‘in the system’, each of us a statistical and numerical part of a brain-melting expanse of database.
So, given the aforementioned, I remain perplexed about the process for attaining a copy of ones birth certificate in Arizona.
It begins with a line. This is not unexpected. All state offices enjoy a good line. This line feeds one solitary public servant whose job is to dutifully sit in front of a computer terminal and look us up in ‘the system’. This fact alone should make the process practically state-of-the-art. But that would mean embracing efficiency and giving tradition the cold shoulder, and government loves tradition.
For the sake of tradition, they take my drivers license (another state-issued document with lots of personal data) and use a scanner to read the bar code on the back. Said servant then pulls a paper form and stamps it with the word “COUNTED,” unsettling in itself.
I am asked to fill out the form and wait for my number to be called; I think God does something similar.
Being no stranger to the digital paradigm I don’t carry a pen with me like I used to many (many) years ago. So I ask, “Do you have a pen?” She hands me the form . . . and a pencil. How quaint.
As I entered the building I could see others filling out forms with pencils, which triggered a series of grating texts to a friend:
“2014 and we have to wait in line to manually fill out a form”
“Christ, it’s practically the Stone Age here.”
“Excuse me, could I borrow your chiseled, pointy thing so I may chip out my info on this clay tablet?”
“How much more Cro-magnon could it get?”
“Feel better now?” she asks. Of course not, and I’m fairly certain she knows this and as any good friend would she patronizes me
“I’m wondering,” I begin again, “if I should use Cuneiform or early Arabaic.”
“Surprisingly, they actually use a verbal form of language communication here”
“I think grunts and rough gestures might be more in tune with the overall ambiance”
She’s come along for the ride, I can tell by her next reply. “Maybe you could move kinda ape-like to the window . . . grunting, of course.”
“That’s pretty funny!” I respond, “I’d do it if I didn’t think they’d deny my request.”
I take my early 17th century paper form–and pencil–and drag my knuckles to a table, whereupon the pencil lead actually breaks the moment I set it to paper. Seriously.
The form asks for all the same information on my license, the same info which I know damn well is staring them in the face on that terminal monitor. In addition they require you to actually fill in your credit card info on this form. Surprisingly, they don’t ask for the social security number, probably because they already have it?
I am pleasantly surprised by how short the wait time is until my number is called (not you, God, the vital records clerk). She, too, asks for my drivers license and the credit I want to use to pony up twenty friggin dollars for the copy of the certificate–$20! Perhaps I shouldn’t expect a happy ending, but at least a smile?
I can sense my annoyance meter slowly rising as I dig out the cards. The clerk at the first window already confirmed my identity and ‘counted” me, and my C/C info is on the stupid form. Why the hell do you need to see it, or, conversely, why must we write the number on the form if we’re going to give you the physical card anyway?
Okay. Whatever. I dole them over and she does her thing. I sign the credit slip, she staples it to yet another piece of paper and says “Take this to window 4.”
Window 4 is where the duplicate birth certificate is printed, from — wait for it — another computer terminal.
In case you’re wondering, in Arizona you can obtain a duplicate BC via mail, but they require the use of a carrier pigeon.