Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Words Without Persons

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it"-—John 1:1-5 (TNIV).

AOL had a fit today because my credit card expired. That is, their computer panicked because it couldn’t automatically siphon away what it wanted. So, I clicked their link and went to their "easy" page to update my credit card information. Right. After dutifully entering all the information I had, I found that the page required a PIN number, which I did not have. I even asked my wife who confirmed it. “No PIN, Doug.” She knows about these things. So, I called the credit card company and talked to a real, live human being (the significance of this will be come clear later) who said that only debit cards had PINS. She was sorry; so was I. So much for the easy page. Now, horror of horrors, I had to…call AOL. Getting telephonic information from them is like reaching the bottom of an active volcano, but far less dramatic. They want you to do everything on line, of course. After all, they are America On Line.

No humans answer the phone at AOL. Or it they do, it is a kind of an accident, a worse case scenario. Or perhaps after getting very deep into the "menu options" a human voice might squeak through, but I couldn’t reach any. During the first "conversation" with the robotic-voice trying-to-sound-concerned-and-personal, I hesitated to enter some number, because I didn't understand what was requested. “She” kindly told me that she would now "end the call," but wished me a good day, nonetheless. Thanks, Robotta. The next call was not so terminated, but I was still disconnected somehow anyway. This prompted some fuming to my wife about depersonalized and idiotic technologies. But I still had work to do. The third attempt was successful. The voice was happy to announce that my account was updated and functional. (Before that she lamented that my old card had expired. Oh my.)

Speaking to no one when that no one is pretending to be someone is disorienting to me, a someone. If I had a choice, I would rather hear a straight-up robotic voice taken from a bad 1950s science fiction movie. (Or perhaps it could be the voice of Robot—-an original name there—-on the "Lost in Space" TV program from the 1960s. Yes, I watched the vile tube in my benighted youth...) Yet when the automation pretends to be animated, things just get too bizarre. We already hear far too many voices everywhere aimed at no one in particular, but with great urgency and high volume. These voices haunt us, taunt us, flatter us. But these are humans (one hopes) who are speaking. Even the nasal-toned, lisping correspondents on NPR (the only radio major network I know of to hire horrible speaking voices as regulars) are real humans, however insipid. But, of course, one is not talking to these voices from the radio, the television, the cinema. One listens, or maybe one yells at them (as I do when I hear these egregious and unradio voices on NPR).

But the problem with the AOL pseudo-person is just that. There is no one home, but one must talk to them—I mean it. I find myself snarling, "Yes" or "Credit update" or the like. Why be nice to no one? But, then again, why be mean to no one? The latter just seems right on general principles, a kind of mute but spoken protest against depersonalization.

Now Robotta has a kind and caring and impersonal word for you, "Thank you for choosing the Constructive Curmudgeon. Your reading may have been monitored for quality assurance. Have a nice day and visit us again!"


Small Group Guy said...

I work as a consultant at times for different Call Centers and my advise has often been the same "get rid of the computerized menu's" they are not as friendly as one may think.

You may know this, but as a tip, if you get into a menu you can hit the zero, sometimes a few times, and it usually gets you direct to an operator.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.