dehumanizing paperwork

I know I'm not the only one who hates filling out paperwork, but what I find really infuriating is the way that bureaucracy tries to fit you into a box. You can sometimes see through the form you're filling out to the committee that wrote it, and the committee invariably stares back at you with a cold dead expression of utter contempt. You lowly form-filling-out person. How can we best put you in a box so we can do math about you?

Filling out a form is an act of submissiveness to the Beast, a subtle reminder that you are being processed, chewed, just like everyone else. It hurts my ego, sure, but I'm also afraid that I'll get too used to the feeling, that I'll forget why I find it offensive, and that I will have lost something in the process.

I keep saying I'm not an anarchist; maybe it's just that as a humanist, I think that we can do better. Like, WAY better.

Good paperwork, like a clean interface, respects the citizen. It requires no duplication, and requests no unnecessary information. If a piece of information can be looked up in a database, it is not requested. If a piece of information is an irrelevant invasion of privacy, it is not requested. Optional fields are clearly marked. The reason you might want to provide this information is clearly noted. You don't have to print your address on every page. Why do we even need your address? It should say why you might want to give it to us, right there on the form!

The truth is, most paperwork is about exercising power. The organization has power over the individual, and forcing the individual to fill out paperwork is a way of exerting this power. The reason that some paperwork feels like torture is because it is. Just like poorly trained prison guards invariably abuse their prisoners, poorly trained bureaucrats invariably abuse their constituents, because they are in the same position of asymmetrical power.

Until we start calling this mental abuse what it is, we'll never escape the prisoner/guard emotional pattern that defines bad paperwork.  Solving this problem requires imagination and courage, but organizations that tackle this problem will find themselves, I predict, universally beloved.

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