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'Oh, I didn't know a real person would answer'

It's probably happened to all of us. We call a government office, urgently needing information, only to hear the cold, impersonal sounds of an automated voice-mail system, presenting us with a menu of choices that never quite gives us the chance to get the information we really need.

Well, take heart. Although the avalanche of impersonal technology may seem inevitable, the provincial government of New Brunswick, Canada has decided to take a step backward.

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Starting in 1999, in order to make government services more personal, voice mail will no longer be used by "government telephone-answering positions."

That means sometime in the new year, whenever a New Brunswicker phones a government department, he or she will be able to talk to a "real person" - in French or English - who will be able to direct an inquiry to the proper person.

There's no word yet on what such a move will cost, but money doesn't seem to be a concern at the moment.

In an interview on CBC-Radio, Premier Camille Theriault said his government's decision to use real people came from a desire to make government more accessible and useful.

Needless to say, the response has been enthusiastic. A spokesman in the provincial Communications Department says that they've received "quite a few calls" from residents and that the feedback has been "overwhelmingly positive."

If only airlines and banks could be this devoted to making service more personal.

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