Please hold while I connect you to a real human being

04/16/2012 6:01 AM

04/16/2012 6:01 AM

Comedian Joan Rivers made “Can we talk?” a popular catch phrase. These days, the phrase should be “Can we talk to a human being?” So many companies have automated answering systems that it’s almost jarring when a human answers the phone.

When my television wouldn’t work, I called the number, and I must say the automated woman’s voice made “her” seem nice and friendly. The voice was encouraging and calm. But when none of her options were what I needed to know, she told me how long I’d have to wait before being connected to a living, breathing person.

That’s not always the case, however.

I’ve tried more than once to have a conversation with an automated voice that apparently was deaf. Even though I was speaking clearly and, according to my co-workers, loudly, Automated Annie couldn’t hear me, couldn’t understand me – and didn’t help me one bit.

I’ve talked to senior citizens who simply hang up when they hear an automated voice because they know it’s just not going to work out. While waiting in the line at Panera, I overheard a man tell his wife, “I have a hard enough time trying to talk to a person on the phone, so I’m not about to go punching this button for this and that button for something else.” It’s not just seniors who would like to have human help at first dial, or be directed to a “convenient website for any problems you might be having.”

I know it’s difficult for some of us to imagine, but there are people in the world who don’t have a computer. Many places you call for help will direct you to the computer website. While you’re on hold, they suggest their website again, and on it goes. Some websites are so difficult to navigate that it makes your original problem seem insignificant.

The most frustrating challenge I ever had in the automated world was trying to talk to a human being in the lost and found department at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. It cannot be done. I spent an hour on the phone and two hours online trying to find my camera – actually, The Wichita Eagle’s camera. Aaargh. If you lose something at LaGuardia, rest assured it’s gone forever and you will never have the opportunity to talk to anyone in the lost and found department about it.

But in many non-verbal communicative times, there isn’t a problem; even so, you’re still supposed to do as many tasks as possible without human contact. The reason I’m writing this column is an experience I had at the bank drive-through. I deposited a check and asked for my balance. “You know you can do that online,” the cute teller said. “Do you want me to give you the website?” I told her I knew the website and I use it sometimes, “but I like to drive through and see you.” She looked very puzzled, then she smiled. True, I wasn’t doing my banking as fast as possible: I chose a moment of human interaction instead.

It’s been years ago when I saw a television show where a young man proved he could live and have whatever he needed without ever leaving his house. And he didn’t talk to anyone, either. His communication tool was the computer. Period. At the time, it was fascinating, but, I thought, troubling. Now the concept is not the least bit far-fetched.

People in this newsroom will e-mail each other instead of walking 20 steps. Yes, wherever we go, we’re texting, e-mailing, tweeting and Facebooking instead of (gasp!) talking to each other.

When I called a friend I hadn’t spoken to in a long time the other day, she said, “Hi! It’s so good to hear your voice.” And it was good to hear hers. I’m going to call more, text less.

Can we talk? Yes, yes we can.

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