People at work think that I don’t get riled up about much. And I guess they have a point. If there’s a problem I try and troubleshoot it and usually try to calmly discuss and brainstorm a solution as the first line of action. I know how to solve problems, and work with others to solve problems.
But everyone has some kind of weak point that will break them, and although I’ve realized this before, it came home to me this weekend that I turn into my “worst self”, the one that doesn’t have any patience at all and gets really angry, when forced to interact with a robot as if it’s a person. Especially “talking” with a robot as if it’s a person.
You know, you call that 1-800 number when you have a problem and instead of getting a live human voice you get a simulated one. A robot telling you in a soothing voice that to help you, you have to give them more information, like your account number. Then you do that and they ask you to repeat said account number, and then they ask you something you can’t give them, and pretty soon after 5 more minutes of this, you’re yelling “Just give me Customer Service b*tch!” because you know you’re not talking to a human being but a computer who’s not listening to you at all!
This is why I NEVER call automated lines while at work and instead spend my weekend and days off doing this, because I know how riled up I get. And although robots as customer service reps may make good business, it certainly makes for a more dehumanized world. By the time you get to an actual live person, you’re in a bad state to begin with, and then, let’s face it, live customer service isn’t as good as it used to be. You now have to explain things 3 to 5 times before people will get it, if they do. Sometimes they’re trying, sometimes they’re not, but either way you just wish they actually understood you.
Which brings me to my point: we have to be careful with all our technology to try and understand one another. The reason businesses think that the robot customer service reps will work is because they think that everyone speaks the same language and that everyone will have a nice tidy response that fits in to the pre-programmed questions. Like the Chinese “Tiger Mother” who expects cookie-cutter straight A children, robot customer service reps have no ability to see who you are and know that you’re the “exception” to their rules and classifications. With all our email, texting, and online interaction, it’s easy to think that others fall into our own “classifications” and not make room for an interaction and engagement and dialogue that will allow us to truly see who they really are.
Dozens of people have written about this before; psychologists have described this as a culture of narcissism, although ironically it seems that our culture might have become so narcissistic that they are doing away with the classification of narcissism entirely!
Right now with the economy as bad as it is, it’s tempting to think that robots and automated processes can completely solve our economic woes. However, perhaps we should be thinking about our human “bottom line” rather than our economic one. How disconnected from one another do we have to get before we decide that to be good neighbors and that to have good relationships with people in general, we have to really communicate instead of just thinking that we are?
Image above taken at the Museum of the Moving Image, Astroria