I’m not a modern technology hater. For the most part, I’m consistently amazed by, and appreciative of, the technological advances that continue to improve our lives on a daily, if not hourly, basis. We are lucky to live in a First World country where we quite literally have the internet at our finger tips at all times. The time it takes to do pretty much anything is a fraction of what it used to be.
Even just in the years since my days in college, the changes to how we do things have been rather amazing. At my first job, I had a typewriter and a desk phone. We relied on messenger companies to get materials to other offices in a rush, then were thrilled at the speed of fax machines. If we needed information, we did research through other people, telephones, libraries and books. Personal, face-to-face interaction was a constant.
Now we spend more time with our devices than with other people. My computer screen at work sees my face far more than even my husband does. When we walk away from our desks, we still have our mobile units readily available at a moment’s notice. The other day I was standing in my kitchen trying to remember how many cups there are in a pound. Rather than rely on my memory, or search out a recipe conversion chart in a cookbook, I asked Siri. While watching TV with my husband, if we start wondering what that actor’s name is, or what movies he starred in, we simply pick up the iPad to find out. If we are trying to decide where to go to dinner, we can research not only the locations, but their menus, and get ratings from other patrons, all before we get into the car. If I want to know if I have time to get the dog out for a walk before the rain hits, in seconds I can have an in-motion real time radar map in the palm of my hand. As long as we don’t lose touch with reality, and human interaction, I can easily appreciate these modern conveniences. Last night at the fitness center, one of the coaches had posted his quote of the day, targeted mostly to the youth with whom he works: “Pull your head out of your phone; when you are looking down, life passes you by.”
When used wisely, I’m a technology fan. What I have issues with, however, is when the technology not only is less efficient and useful than personal interaction, but actually traps you and keeps you away from any human contact. The best example of this is automated phone systems. We all dread calling any company to be only greeted by a recorded voice instructing us to push buttons in a never-ending menu of options. At best, it is frustrating. At worst, it is downright useless.
For the past few days, I have attempted to assist my brother in trying to order replacement parts for his CPAP Machine (Sleep Apnea machine). After some research by both of us, we obtained the phone number of the national health organization through which parts are to be ordered, and the phone number of the local branch.
When I dialed the number yesterday, I was greeted with the usual phrase “Please listen closely, as our menu options have changed.” Really? Like anyone calls so frequently that they would have memorized the previous options? I had to listen through the options twice, because none of them seemed to fit my needs and my questions. I tried the trick of pressing zero in the hope of being re-directed to a human, but no go. I got bounced back to the menu. Interestingly, the very first option was “If you are calling from Florida, please press 1.” Why? What’s up with Florida? I started to wonder if I pretended to be from Florida, would pressing 1 get me to a real person faster? Eventually I somewhat randomly selected a number in the choices and immediately was placed on hold. A lengthy hold. With really bad Muzak. From time to time yet another recorded voice would interrupt the music to tell me that all of their associates were helping other customers, and asked me to please continue to hold. This always makes me wonder too, are there really so many other people calling at exactly the same time I am? Or are there really only two people on duty to answer questions? Was that recorded voice an animatronic woman, or a real person who is also trapped behind the wall of technology?
Since I had to make this call while at work, I put the phone on speaker and listened to the horrible music while trying to get something else accomplished. Approximately twenty minutes later, lo and behold, a real live person came on the line. She was very pleasant, and although she was not going to go out of her way to make the process easy for us, she gave me the information I needed. Unfortunately, part of the instructions require me to visit the local branch with the machine so they could get a “compliance download.” This is a technical term that really means running a report so the insurance company can decide if they will still cover the cost.
After the call, I went back online to find the location of the closest branch, and their phone number . I realized, to my chagrin, that I had neglected to ask the representative to look up the hours of my local branch. So today, glutton for punishment that I am, I tried calling the local branch. Once again, I was greeted with a menu. After pressing what seemed to be the appropriate number, I was then sent to a second menu, which sounded eerily familiar – because it began with the same offer to have Florida residents press 1.
After a surprisingly short wait, a woman answered. And after repeating myself three times, I realized she was not hearing me, but rather somehow the lines were crossed and she was speaking to someone else. I was forced to hang up and try again. Dial. Menu. Nope, still don’t live in Florida. Pick a random number. Now, mind you, this was all just to find out when the local office would be open. Again the hold, again the bad music, again I put it on speaker so I could do other work. Nearly 30 minutes later, a representative finally picked up. Giddy with excitement, I ask if I had reached my local branch. He said no, this was the national center. Of course it was. I sighed, and explained my mission. He looked up the information for me, and finally, after far too much wasted time, I had my answer. Sadly but not surprisingly, they are open 8:30 – 4:30, weekdays only. No evening hours, no weekend hours. I will have to use my own work time to get this taken care of.
This whole process had me missing the good old days. The days when a phone call yielded one of three possible results: no answer, a busy signal, or a human. No frustrating cycle of useless menu options. We spoke to real humans, and those humans were helpful. Heck, they would probably have sent a technician out for a house call, rather than leaving me to fuss with the equipment on my own.
I am left to admit that sometimes we take a step too far…that great ideas for making our lives more efficient actually backfire and do the opposite. I know that the time I’ve wasted so far on what should be a quick and easy process are hours I’ll never get back. I also know that I will never encourage anyone to try calling that same healthcare company.
Most of all, I know that we must never assume that technology can always do a better job than real people, nor is it necessarily the faster, better option. Yes, we real women have come to rely on innovations to make a lot of things easier in our lives. But nothing beats personal connections to really get the job done. Even if you live in Florida.