Help! Is anybody out there?

Jest for grins

Sunday, August 20, 2000

I think, therefore I am wrong!

Take the other day when I was in a hurry and decided to self-scan my groceries rather than wait in the long lines at the measly two check-out lanes that were open. Self-scanning four items should be a piece of cake, I thought, for a woman who had just made airline reservations online.

Although the cashier didn't say it, I suspect the computer thought I was trying to make off with a box of cookies. I'm surprised it didn't instruct me to hold out my arms so it could slap handcuffs on my wrists.

I scanned the first item and placed it in my bag. I scanned the second item and bagged it, but the computer locked up and wouldn't let me scan the third. The cashier I called for assistance pointed out that the second item hadn't scanned a price into the machine. Although the cashier didn't say it, I suspect the computer thought I was trying to make off with a box of cookies. I'm surprised it didn't instruct me to hold out my arms so it could slap handcuffs on my wrists.

I was considerably older when I reached the screen that asked me to select the payment method. I chose the cash button, then realized that I had only $2 with me.

No problem. I punched the button that allowed me to change options. I then told the machine I'd write a check, only to discover that I had written the last check in my checkbook.

I chose another option: debit card. I have never used my debit card, but I have watched other people swipe their cards, and it seemed a simple process. So I swiped mine " twice, then a third time. Nothing. The machine clearly expected me to do something else, probably enter a password if only I could figure out how and where.

It was at this point that I remembered I had placed a new batch of checks in the other compartment of my purse. So I changed options again and wrote a check, but I couldn't see a slot where I could deposit it into the machine. I asked the cashier for help. He said, "You give it to me."

Amazing! An actual human encounter! I miss those, don't you? It seems that I'm dealing less and less with humans and more and more with machines.

Remember when a smiling guy with a rag in his hip pocket greeted you at the gas station and inquired, "Regular or Ethyl?" Then, he not only filled your car with gas, he checked the oil and used the rag to wash your windshield.

I have been forced by necessity to become fairly proficient at fueling my car, but the other day I stopped at a service station which boasted shiny new pumps I hadn't yet confronted. I repeatedly punched -- without result -- the lighted rectangular plastic button that read "Pay Inside." Finally, I turned to the man at an adjacent pump and said "OK, I'm blond, and I'm ready to admit that I can't figure out how to do this."

He came over to my pump and punched a tiny round button BENEATH the plastic rectangle. If I'd been designing those pumps, I would have dispensed with the tiny buttons and made the big obvious ones do the job.

But do you know where I miss humans the most? On the telephone! I firmly believe the invention of automated voice mail systems should have been punishable by death. How many times have you listened through a long recorded spiel that instructed you to punch numbers on your dial pad for certain options " then failed to give you the option you required?

Health insurance companies are the worst, although utility companies are a close second. What really troubles me is when I know I am not going to get the information I need without speaking to a human " but I have to listen to a menu, then punch a number to get to another menu where I punch another number to get to another menu. Finally, a dozen menus later, I hear: "If you need to talk to a representative, press four." The problem is that it isn't ALWAYS four that you press to talk to a human. Each company uses a different number.

What recently worked for me -- I'm not promising that you will have similar results -- was to punch in random numbers, numbers that the recorded voice hadn't offered me. Neither 38 nor 57 got a human on the line, but pressing 106 did.

Computers do, however, have one advantage over humans. They lack the capacity to be rude. Too bad that they also lack human kindness and a sense of humor!