I had to have a form filled at my HMO office this morning. “No big deal,” I told my wife, “I’ll be back in 20 minutes.” I found parking and ambled up to the office. There was no one in front of me at the reception desk and I mentally corrected the 20 minutes to 15. I dropped into the chair, handed over the papers to the smiling secretary and explained what I wanted. She nodded and I was pleased that she understood my request. As she entered my number into her computer, the phone rang. She ignored it and went on with my work.

 After another minute her mobile phone rang and she ignored that too. I was impressed. The door opened and a little old lady entered, voicing her request as she came into the room. Another phone began ringing and the old lady simply raised her voice so she would be heard. At this point the secretary lifted her mobile phone. “It maybe my daughter,” she said. She spoke for a moment and put the phone down. The two office phones were ringing out of sync and off-key and the little old lady was still trying to make herself heard.

The secretary asked me for my ID number and I started calling out the nine digits over the noise of the phones. She motioned me to keep going with the number. I gave her the last three numbers of my ID, the door opened, a man came in and the mobile phone rang again. She picked it up, held it to her ear and muttered something.

“Excuse me,” said the man who had entered. “I have a question.”

“That number you gave me is wrong,” she said to me. Two phones were ringing.

“I’ll come back later,” I said standing up.

“What’s your hurry?” she asked.

“You’re never going to get the number right with all this,” I said gesturing around the room.

I left. All the way along the passage and even in the parking floor I could hear the phones ringing.

And this is only 2013. Imagine how it’s going to be in 5 years time…