As a graduate student, I majored in Victorian novels. I read many books by Anthony Trollope, but one I didn’t get around to was titled “The Way We Live Now,” a satire of excesses he saw in British life during the late 19th century. I thought of that title recently as I contemplated some of the prominent features of American life in the 21st century.

My daughter lives in a Denton neighborhood not far from the University of North Texas. They were in the habit of ordering take-out pizza from a restaurant near the university, so recently she placed an order on their webpage, paid with her credit card and was told when to pick it up. But upon arriving at the restaurant, it was closed up tight. She assumed the business had been hacked and her money was lost. But a week later she got a call from the manager of the pizza restaurant. They had been shut down because of the pandemic but forgot to turn off their automatic online ordering system. He apologized and refunded her money.

Our society’s reliance on electronic systems of that sort is part of “the way we live now.” Another example is the pharmacy I use for all my prescription medicines. Whenever I telephone them, I get a lengthy recording that asks me to reply with a number or a key word to signal the reason for my call. They also send me text messages by phone that sometimes ask for a response. Recently when I tried to respond to one of those queries, I became so frustrated that I just drove to the pharmacy so I could talk to them in person. Even that was problematic, because the young assistant I talked to looked up my account and gave me incorrect information. Finally the pharmacist on duty understood why I was there and filled my prescription while I waited.

Another problem is the expectation that we will evaluate service electronically. I saw one of my physicians recently for a routine check up. The office visit was unremarkable, but a few days later I was asked to give a very detailed report and evaluation of the whole experience. First I was asked how long I had to wait before seeing the nurse, then how much longer to see the doctor. Also whether both the nurse and the doctor behaved in a courteous and professional manner and how satisfied I was with their responses. And whether I would recommend this physician to someone else who might be looking for medical care.

I realize that my completing this evaluation was optional, but the very idea of asking me as a patient to supply a detailed critique of a routine office visit with a physician is indicative of the kind of excess that prompted Anthony Trollope to write his satire titled “The Way We Live Now.” I understand now why he chose to satirize that societal condition as a deplorable weakness that needed to be corrected.

Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories. He is launching a new class at the Senior Citizens Center in Sherman on July 28:

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