For those of us old enough to remember, telephone calls were once a joy to make or receive. You picked up the hand set from the cradle, got a dial tone, dialed the number you were calling, and someone on the other end said, “Hello”, and wonderful conversation ensued with your mother, your siblings, a good friend, or the local department store eager to answer your questions about merchandise they might or might not have. The plumber, his wife, or his secretary, answered the phone and gave you a time when he could be there to repair the leak in your bathroom. Life was beautiful. In the space of one or two minutes, you could order new clothes, schedule a repair person, or make a medical appointment. Try that today, and you will not need a barber for several months, as you will pull out your hair in the process.
Making a telephone call today goes something like this. You pick up the handset, dial your kid’s number, and an electronic device with your kid’s voice on it answers the phone. You get something like, “Sorry we can’t come to the phone right now. Leave your name and number. We’ll get back to you first chance we get.” So, you leave a message, “Hi, this is Dad. Call me. I haven’t spoken with you for a couple of weeks and I’m wondering how things are going. I love you.” Three days later, you try again and go through the same routine. In about two or three weeks, you finally get to talk with your kid and by then, you are so damned angry and frustrated, you forget why you called in the first place and you take a pill to calm your acid reflux.
But the real frustration is with calling a business. You pick up the handset, get a dial tone, dial the number and the inevitable machine answers their telephone. “You have reached whatever the name of our company is, and your call is very important to us. Please press one for English or numero dos por Espaniol “. You press one and get the following. “Please pay attention to the following menu as our options have changed. To inquire about your bill, press one. To request service, press two. To speak with the janitor, press three. To speak with, etc. etc. etc.” and the list goes on forever. At the end, you are advised to press some number or symbol if you want to hear the menu again. Forget that none of the menu items fit your problem! Not knowing what to do at that point, and hesitating to do anything, you are finally advised that if none of the menu items fit your problem, stay on the line or press zero for an operator. You press zero and guess what. Another mechanized voice comes on and says, “For English press one. Por Espaniol, press dos” or something like that. You press one, and an operator finally comes on the line. Before you can get your question started, she interrupts with, “What is your account number?” You say, “I don’t have an account. I want to speak with…” and she interrupts again and says, “Hold on please.” She puts you on hold, and you listen to horribly synthesized music occasionally interrupted by a synthesized voice, “Please continue holding. Your call is very important to us and one of our associates will be with you shortly.” Yeah, sure! More horrible music. More notices about the importance of your call. Finally, some one comes on the line. “May I have your name and account number, please?” You reply, “I have no account number, but my…” You are immediately reprimanded and the person says, “Please hold. Someone will be with you shortly.” And puts you on hold again. More music (?), more apologies (all synthesized, of course). You are reminded six times that you can visit a website and find answers to your problems. In other words, “Please don’t bother us!”
Twenty-five minutes have elapsed. Your stomach is churning. You have a headache. Your ear is sore. A human voice, speaking broken English, finally comes through the earpiece. “Dees is Zahari in the Philippines. How can I halp you?” By now, you are so irritated, you speak louder than you normally would and say, “Don’t put me on hold again, dammit! I want to speak….” Zahari interrupts. “Don’t yell at me, man. I don’t have to take dat kind of abuse.” He cuts you off. You get a dial tone. You rip the phone off the wall and send it crashing across the kitchen, causing a very distinct hole in the drywall next to the refrigerator. You now have two problems. You need a phone repair person and a dry Waller, but guess what! No telephone to call anyone. What the hell, you couldn’t get through anyway, so you go to the computer and get on the famed internet.
What a glorious piece of technology! You browse around for ten minutes and finally find a web site for the phone company. You look for a link to order repairs. None there. You find a link called “contact us.” You click on it. What a revelation. To reach us, call Area Code, etc. So you go back to the links. You finally find one that sounds like it might be helpful, so you click on it, and the first thing you get is a request for your password. You curse. Your wife admonishes you. You sigh. You throw the keyboard against the monitor, walk back to the kitchen, pour yourself a stiff one, and sit at the table staring at the hole in the drywall. You smile, throw down the shot, and pour a double. You sit quietly, contemplating the marvels of modern communication!