VOCABULARY: “SLUDGE” — the administrivia that make getting things done near-impossible


Sludge: How paperwork, wait times, and confusion degrade our well-being

  • Sludge may be inevitable, but there are better ways to manage such frictions in our daily lives.

with Cass Sunstein

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As defined by Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, sludge is the amorphous accumulation of daily frictions that separate people from the things that can make their lives easier or better. Think tedious paperwork, long wait times, and bureaucratic procedures to fulfill simple requests. If you’ve ever navigated the layers of an automated answering system to speak with a human representative only to be put on hold for hours listening to public-domain slow jazz, then you know the pains of sludge.

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Just yesterday, I called Walgreens about an OTC item that ordered on their website.  I had it confirmed then canceled.

I called three times.  Navigated phone choices.  Got a person each time who asked my name and birthdate — despite it wasn’t about a prescription — and they “transferred” me to a number that rang innumerable times then “transferred” me to survey “in order to give you outstanding service”.  Regardless if you took the survey or not, it hung up on you.

So I went to the store — ready for war — a nice lady took my name and birthdate — I have no idea why — and my order number.  She also said that they would fill my order but it would take an hour.

Argh!  So I left to do errands and came back,

New lady.  Took my name and birthdate — Argh! — and had no idea why order was cancelled.  Or why my order wasn’t ready.

Earlier lady returns equally clueless.

Then the pharmacist gets involved.  Also clueless as to why.  (It is an OTC item.)

After another hour, I get my order.  No apologies and no explanations.

SLUDGE in inaction.