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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Note to All Cyborgs: DO NOT CALL ME




Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a grouch these days. I’m on a very tight deadline for not one but two books. I’m about to have to work on edits for a third. My father recently sold his home and moved into mine. (Since he’s 91, he really couldn’t do any of the packing and cleaning and everything else involved in moving.) Since he moved into the room that was once my library, I have books and bookcases stacked in my dining room until I get the rest of my house de-cluttered and rearranged to accommodate them. I’m also having my bathroom remodeled.

Don’t get me wrong. All of these things are good things. I’m thrilled that I continue to have contracts for my books. I’m very happy to have my dad live with me so I can look after him better. I need to get rid of a bunch of stuff I don’t ever use and basically make my house make more sense. The bathroom is gorgeous and much more functional for my dad. Still, what I don’t need in the midst of all this chaos is computers calling me.

I know they’re computers because there are little buzzes and whirs between the time I speak and when they finally answer. I know they’re computers because I get the same impossibly perfect, unaccented American-heartland voices saying the same spiel. “You’re harder to get ahold of than the last cookie in the cookie jar!” or “I know you’re busy, so I won’t take up much of your time.” And then, when I say, “Are you a computer?” I get the buzz and whir and then, “Ha ha, do I sound that bad?” or “I’m a live person using scripted responses.”

No, that’s not true.

According to this article in the Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/12/almost-human-the-surreal-cyborg-future-of-telemarketing/282537/, there may be a live person running the computer for two or three calls at a time, but I am not speaking to a live person. That live person is in the Philippines or some other place with cheap labor trying to fool me into believing I’m speaking to a human. There is a vast difference between a human reading a script and a computer playing a .wav file.

According to the article, this type of system helps people who work for telemarketing companies not want to gnaw one of their own legs off after two or three days on the job. Granted, it’s a terrible job making calls all day to people who find your intrusion on their time insufferably annoying. I sympathize with the telemarketers. I do. But my solution to that problem is for them to NOT CALL ME. If I want a service, I will seek out someone who can provide it. You don’t have to tell me when I need what you’re selling.

If you’re looking for charitable donations, DO NOT CALL ME. I don’t donate over the telephone. There are too many scam artists out there, and I’m just not doing it. I donate to reputable charities like Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse who are well known and who do not spend most of my donations on “administrative expenses” like some charities I won’t mention (cough, Red Cross, United Way, cough, cough).

If I’m busy, I resent the interruption these calls make in my train of thought. Sometimes getting just the right turn of phrase is a delicate and elusive thing, and when one comes to me, I don’t need a computer interrupting me before I can even write it down. If I’m sleeping, and yes, I’m a night person and I keep odd hours, then I’m doubly annoyed by these calls.  Most of the time I just hang up. Sometimes I ask if the caller is a computer and, invariably, it tries to deny it is. Sometimes, following that, I ask for a supervisor and request that my number (already on the do not call list, which seems to be universally ignored by these machines) be removed from their list.

But, if I happen to be in a playful mood, I do enjoy messing with them. If I ask if it’s a computer and am told it’s not, then I ask random questions like “How’s the weather where you are?” “What did you have for lunch?” or “How ‘bout those Dallas Cowboys?” That usually earns me a lot of clicks and buzzes and whirs and then something like, “I can tell this isn’t a good time for you. We’ll call back later.” Click.

Ummm, please, don’t.

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