Adaptation to Telecommunication

I could fairly be identified as a “good kid” when I was in middle school/high school. I didn’t cause much trouble – well, except for driving my mom crazy from time to time, but publicly speaking, folks would describe me as a good kid.

I liked to read a lot when I was a kid. I don’t even remember favorite books per se, save a very few, but I was ALWAYS reading. I’m a definite believer that one cannot write if one hasn’t read and absorbed something of style in the written word. Grammar lessons will only take you so far. Mandatory, grudgingly performed writing assignments from one’s elementary teachers will not take you a great deal farther. Reading, I am convinced, is what helps develop a writing voice, even more so that extensive writing for the sake of writing.

I remember posting recently about my downfall of not faithfully keeping up with the news. Well, I never was much of a news follower, but back in my teenage years, I did read the human interest story section. I devoured the pop-psychology wisdom of Ann Landers. I enjoyed the satire of Dave Barry. I remember thinking to myself, what a neat way that would be to earn a living – writing funny, sort of silly, slightly sarcastic stuff!

I’ve never made a living at writing funny stuff, but I did have a certain reputation among my friends for a sarcastic quill. One that only very thinly disguised poking fun at my teachers and less-than-friends. I was (well, okay, AM!) an applause junkie. The other kids thought my stories were hilarious! They were a sophomoric version of Dave Barry. The accolades and appreciative smirks and giggles were a significant part of what prodded me to practice my writing and the enjoyment that it gave me.

It has been a wonderful thing to discover that I can now, sometimes, put my gift for writing to the use of God’s purposes. Before starting this blog, I used to moderate an email-based discussion group on the weekly lectionary passages. I’ve written for our parish newsletter, and recently for our diocesan newsletter. The diocesan newsletter project is a fairly new one, but one that I believe has great potential to build people up, and celebrate lay ministry. I hope it keeps its early momentum and grows into a well-followed feature. One often never knows what seeds bear fruit. But sometimes you DO hear about it, and that’s when the properly directed applause junkie tendencies of my individual expression of (prideful) original sin gets the privilege of being transformed into something for good; to reflect the joy back to God as if to smile in jointly experienced satisfaction and pleasure at the recognition of a job well-done.

(However, today’s post is NOT going to be one of those pure and spiritual endeavors. It is unapologetically somewhere on the sarcasm end of the writing project continuum, somewhat hoping to simply give you a wry chuckle for today, but without the regrettable personal put-downs of my adolescent genre. In that spirit, read on if you’re still motivated to care! ha ha!)

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I’m not really all that old, but I can remember when you called up a business and you got a customer service representative of some type on the phone. This person might be really helpful, or innocently thick, or rude and insolent, but in any event, you got a human being with real listening ears, and real feelings to whom you could ask your question and have your call “directed.”

One day though, a profit-minded manager began searching for ways to improve his phone customer service. The creative number cruncher, a colleague of the telecommunications incarnation of Satan himself, realized you could save a ton of human resource dollars if there were a way to get a machine to be that initial call screener. The Automated Attendant was thus born. In my business, pharmacy, where we call the Big Insurance Companies frequently, we learned quickly which prompts to press to get directed the way we needed. We learned that hitting zero always got you to the lowly receptionist. Life was fine. We adapted.

Soon, the creative number cruncher began doing statistical analysis on the phone queue. He learned that many people were bypassing his marvelous invention and simply hitting zero anytime they called. This introduced easier to understand menu options. And the ubiquitous, “Please listen carefully to our menu selections as options have changed.” But this was still in the days of customer service! Hitting zero still worked. Of course, hitting zero could be a crapshoot. You might have a lengthy hold time to get your representative who was just dying to take your call, as the automated droning voice intoned approximately every 5 minutes. Thus began the hands-free mute trick, where you put the phone on hands-free, went about your business, and played their little game. Sometimes the automated voice could give you the info you needed, other times you got to the right person quicker than pressing zero. And sometimes you still got someone who had no idea how to help you. No matter. Life was still mostly fine. We adapted.

This pressing zero business was really trying the patience of the boy wonder who created the Automated Attendant though. In some businesses the polite little voice would gently, but firmly tell you “that is not a valid selection, please listen to the following options and select on your touch tone key pad.” And with this, we learned to cuss in touch tone. Never cussed in touch tone language? That’s simply when you rapidly hit random buttons, with plenty of asterisks and pound’s…I think those might translate to the F word for touch tone computers! The automated voice attendant would seemingly grow weary of such thankless, gauche, and incorrect responses to her patient explanations, and put you in the endless holding queue for the single human phone answerer who was employed by the Big Company, and boy, that’ll show you! (bwuh-ha-ha-ha!!!) But not too big of a matter. We still had hands-free. Our patients could now hear the voice droning on speaker phone how important our call was to the Big Company. They could empathize with our pain. We could still get some work done, and merely sprint to the phone before the customer service rep hung up after our 20 minute hold time. We adapted.

Never satisfied though, the greedy accounting guy, the creative computer/telecom programming geek, and the well-meaning but clueless customer service guru then put their heads together and came up with the next level of Automated Customer Service. AVR! Automated Voice Response! Now this, surely, will encourage our clients to use the wonders of technology, right? (as if we have a choice! grumble!) No more hitting numbers on your touchtone keypad. No siree! The best of both worlds! Conversation, but with a piece of technology that doesn’t require benefits or salary. Win-win. Well, almost. Because now, you have to cuss in your language of origin, and only maybe have a chance of getting a weary over-worked lonely customer service representative. And hands-free? Forget it. You have to ATTEND to the automated attendant, hang on her every word, answer in an accent that she’ll understand, or she’ll perkily apologize (or is that tauntingly?) “I think you said “transfer me to timbuktu” Is that correct, please say yes or no.” You of course, answer no, and she patiently repeats her question…she’s not on the clock after all, nor does she have a mom with a sick child in her waiting room. So you drop every other important and unimportant task and give your full, caring attention to this machine.

I’ve not yet adapted to this.

Hands-free? Forget it. I forgot to mention that if there’s background noise, she thinks you really DID mean for her to transfer you to her Timbuktu regional office.

Nope, I’ve definitely not adapted to this. Ticks me off afresh everytime I must endure one of those calls.

The irony, of course, is that we used to have people whose job it was to give US their full attention. Now I must drop everything to give my full attention to a robot. We’ve come full circle in completely losing our collective way. Drives me CRAZY!!!

Okay enough ranting for tonight. Be blessed, and be sane. (Centering Prayer, Karla. Relax…)

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