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That Was An Invalid Response

May 19, 2009

robophone1

IN CHILDHOOD, we often dream of the future and wonder, with wide-eyed optimism, about the amazing technological achievements that we might live long enough to witness. Perhaps we see The Jetsons and eagerly anticipate the day GE will unveil the first Food-A-Rack-A-Cycle. Or maybe Total Recall turns us on to the idea that a vacation to Mars will one day replace our annual trips to Orlando.

As the years pass, anticipation gives way to one letdown after another. Finally, we’re left with the undeniable realization that yesterday’s fabulous future is today’s pedestrian present. Life is not nearly as exciting as science fiction led us to believe it would be. Oh, sure, the Internet was a nice surprise, and Star Trek prepared us for cell phones some thirty years before they became commonplace, but big deal. These are minor victories at best — consolation prizes in a primitive world devoid of anti-gravity belts and jet packs. Consider that the year 2015 is a mere six years away, and the bustling skyways Robert Zemeckis promised us in Back to the Future are still a pipe dream.

This brings us to robots — perhaps the biggest lie ever told by pop-culture futurists. Where is Rosie the robot maid? Where is KITT the talking car? Hell, I’d settle for Twiki from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. These sentient companions are noticeably absent from our lives, and yet slick inventors have added insult to injury by slipping talking robots into our phones. Not cool talking robots, like HAL 9000, but the kind that are slyly disguised as instruments of customer service. Who among us has not attempted to get through to a customer service rep, only to become so frustrated by the endless levels of automated menus that we admit defeat and go away?     

As robo-phone technology has gotten more sophisticated, consumers have paid a dear price. It’s no longer enough that we’re forced to push buttons for 45 minutes before we can get a human being on the line. Now we’re prompted to give our commands verbally. “Please speak your 16-digit account number now,” says a hollow voice.

I used to dream of the day I could talk to robots. As a kid, I would have visions of shiny femme-droids serving drinks and finger foods at my request. I have to admit, the reality is a letdown. Talking to robo-phones is just plain humiliating, not an awesome taste of the future, but a flaming hoop through which we are forced to jump by business owners who will stop at nothing to keep from having to talk to their customers.

 Quite often, when faced with robo-phones, I succumb to phone rage, at which time I will just hold down the Zero button until I overload the system. Sometimes this tactic will get me instantly to an operator. Other times the system just hangs up on me. It’s worth the gamble, though, because there’s no better way to blow off steam than pounding on a keypad in a fit of blind rage. Yes, you feel kind of silly afterwards, but the heat of the moment offers a nice rush.

One day, I will regale the younger generation of a time, long ago, when a fellow could call up a business and be greeted by a real person. Even now, it seems like such a bygone concept.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Carolina Maine permalink
    May 21, 2009 11:47 pm

    Your posts are infrequent, but they are so worth waiting for! Missed you!

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