My kingdom for a voice

Elise T. Chisolm

September 29, 1992|By Elise T. Chisolm

Do you ever long for a real voice on the telephone, a live one that will talk with you, that isn't electronic? Sure you do. I do.

Remember the day when you picked up the phone and could hear a live operator ask "What number please?" and then you could tell her, "I want to call my friend in Peoria, and I think the number is . . ." And she would help you.

Gone are those days.

All that may have taken a little longer but there was something cozy about talking to an operator, right?

Now many companies have adopted "tele-info," often combined with too-loud music and too many holds.

Sadly, many companies have laid off operators, too.

Here's what the future holds.

You call your doctor. An automated voice tells you: "Press 1 for emergency, press 001 for any illness above your neck, press 002 for any trouble between your neck and waist line, press 003 for anything from your waist on down, press 004 for a refill of your prescription after you have entered your secret medi-number."

I recently had a long day with automated information technology.

I made the mistake of trying to get Social Security and Amtrak the same day. Stupido.

The Social Security call just reminded me I'm not socially secure when it comes to pressing numbers quickly or taking rapid orders over the phone. So I wasted abut 40 minutes re-dialing and re-dialing until I got it right.

SS goes something like this: "Thank you for calling Social Security. If you are calling from a push button phone and want to use our automated answering equipment, push 9 . . ." After that you get a sequence of other numbers and special antics to perform on your phone set.

The robots at Amtrak talk a little faster, so you have to have a pencil and paper ready or a kitchen wall you can write numbers on. A hearing aid, your glasses and a live secretary would help.

"Thank you for calling Amtrak, if you want unreserved schedules, fare and information from the Washington/Baltimore, Philadelphia/New York area, press 1" -- then it goes on with other instructions. And try above all to remember through all this just where you wanted to go and why.

The other day I called an 800 Blue Cross Blue Shield number. Listen up.

"Welcome to Blue Line (I thought I'd reached a trucking company, I started to hang up.) . . . "please enter you provider number and the pound sign. Enter 001 if you have no provider number . . . then star 5 for instructions" and then it proceeded with other numbers, but not in sequence.

And have you ever noticed how most electronic voices sound alike, they never hiccup, or say, "Uh?" or "you know." I kind of miss that.

I called the National Aquarium yesterday in a hurry to get tickets for out-of-towners: "you have reached the National Aquarium . . ."

Then you can press from 1 to 7. But you have to listen carefully or you many be signing up for a children's sleep-over with the whales, reservations for a party of 100 instead of admission tickets for three people.

Eventually it will come to this: "Pizza Place," the automated voice will say. "Press 1 if you want plain pizza, press 2 if you want pepperoni, press 3 for peppers, press 4 for olives, press 5 for onions . . . ."

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