I spoke to a customer service human. Oh the joy!


Something wonderful happened to me recently. I spoke on the phone to a human from a credit card company. Well, not right away. It would be too long to wait.

I had to go through some of the hoops of the company’s automated phone system, starting with “Listen carefully, because our menu has changed.”

And, of course, I had to enter the card number, PIN, last four digits of my social security number, my maternal grandmother’s name, and learn that for quality reasons, my growing frustration was recorded.

I explained several times at check-in what I needed. He had none. If it was a sample of artificial intelligence, it acted more like artificial stupidity.

Eventually the AI ​​device decided that stupid people – me – weren’t worthy of its recorded messages and transferred me to a “rep”. Banks, credit card companies and insurance offices are unstaffed; they have “representatives”.

This representative was smiling and lovely. She too was human. After 20 terrible minutes of listening to a recorded voice (“How can I help you? I didn’t understand. Press 7.”), here was someone who really wanted to help. Alleluia!

Try talking to a live person, you will like it. That’s wonderful. She told me about the weather where she was in San Antonio, and we had a blast doing something I’d forgotten people can do with a phone: small talk. In the blink of an eye, she took care of my need.

I regularly attend a weekly Texas State University webinar. A super smart man there, a polymath, suggested that my problem of not reveling in the new isolation – working from home, talking to machines, texting, rather than talking on the phone and texting emails – could be generational. I consider it a nice way of saying that if people had sell-by dates, I’ve passed mine.

The implication is that there is a higher place where digital people do digital things, and pity those of us who don’t do digital things, like eat, drink, fall in love. No less than actor Meryl Streep has said, “All that really makes us happy is pretty simple: love, sex and food.” If she likes to talk too, I’ll give her my personal Oscar. Another endearing quote from Meryl is, “Instant gratification isn’t fast enough.

There’s one place where computers haven’t broken the old way of doing things: the State Department. I believe he is still looking for things in giant ledgers and handwriting on scrolls.

I say this because if you, dear citizen, wish to obtain a passport renewal, the fast track at your local passport office takes five to seven weeks. I am anxiously awaiting my renewal, having paid $200 for the super slow “expedited service”.

You can get a replacement Social Security card in moments and a driver’s license right away, but the State Department won’t have any of that.

Curiously, passports are issued to all but those with unpaid child support or outstanding criminal warrants. There are more reasons to refuse a driver’s license than a passport. But the wheels of the State Department turn extremely slowly, and time is not an issue.

The service economy has been a giant scam, devised by MBAs to keep clients at bay or dehumanize them, so that they forget they are paying for the abuse they receive, whether from the passport office or from a financial institution.

I frequent a gas station, in Scituate, RI, where they always pump your gas. Night and day, lines of motorists wait to fill up and exchange a few happy words with the gas station attendants. Human contact, real service, seems to be worth a few cents more per gallon.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

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