Greetings from the Ridge.
I first thought I was hearing things as I walked back from the post office and passed our town’s only ATM machine. A somewhat disheveled lady wearing a jogging outfit stood there talking to the machine. Mind you, this is Coonridge. We don’t have voice activated ATM machines. She was standing there talking to a hunk of metal and plastic. “I already did that,” she said. “No, don’t ask me to do it again because I did it three times and nothing happened.” Okay, in fits of frustration we all talk to our cars, our ovens, husbands, and other inanimate objects, but then the lady took the final step into loony-land when she stopped and asked, “What?” Was the machine talking to her? I hurried on my way before the lady and the machine started a relationship.
When in the course of human events we actually stumble upon a living, breathing human being it startles us. I wanted to call my phone company to get the total of last year’s bill for tax purposes. They aren’t called the phone company for nothing, for if you try to call them you’ll be on the phone for the rest of the morning. After I pressed “3” for billing, “5” for residential, “2” to denote my location, I was then asked to press in my phone number. The phone company doesn’t know my phone number? But the fun was not done as I then entered the world of “voice recognition” which I purposely put into quotation marks since there was very little recognition in their system. “Please say ‘Yes,’ if that answers your question, or ‘Continue’ if you would like to continue. I said “Yes!” The automaton repeated her plea. I repeated my answer. After a few more minutes of verbal Ping-Pong I was given the “Please wait a moment and a service representative will be with you.” Translated: “You’re an idiot who forgot to put in her dentures this morning.”
I could mix and bake a small cake waiting on the line for service representatives but the volume of their canned music and ads promoting their great service would no doubt cause the dough to fall.
After my nails had grown another inch and I watched the passing of two seasons, a voice came on the line. “Front Tier Communications. How may I help you?”
“Are you real?”
“Do you like…you know…breathe and stuff? Eat? Go to the bathroom?”
“Did you have a question?”
“I just asked it. Are you real? Am I talking to a real person?” I wasn’t being obnoxious. I just kept thinking of that lady who was talking to the ATM machine.
“Could I please have your phone number?”
“You have my phone number in your books, your caller ID just flashed you my number, I just got done poking in my number…You own my number!”
The silence on the other end of the line confirmed the fact that was indeed talking to a person with a breath in her lungs. Whether or not she had a heart in her chest was yet to be determined. Machines are not silent, but for a moment this lady was.
Of course I had to be transferred to two other departments while the sun slowly set on Coonridge, and then they finally told me that they couldn’t give out that information over the phone. The phone company can’t phone their information.
As with most contests of Freida-versus-Technology, I gave up, but it did make me fear for a world in which we can easily spend the entire day interacting only with machinery. A day once happily filled with getting the mail, stopping at the bank, and doing a little shopping can easily be replaced by email, online payments, and Amazon.com. ‘Tis a pity. Humans are good things. I’ve known several of them and in some very special cases they have a trait that will never be replaced by a computer chip: they care. . . at least most do.
When I checked later in the morning, the machine-talking lady had jogged on, perhaps to chat with a gas pump somewhere. I’m no psychoanalyst but I have a theory that the lady wasn’t nutty at all. She was just lonely; she wanted somebody to care. Folks, in that category we are still rulers of the universe. Let’s don’t stop.
You ever in Coonridge, stop by. We may not answer the door but you'll enjoy the trip.