Calling Robots

March 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

All I want to do is book an event space in New York City.

I look suspiciously at the map.  Manhattan is the middle-place, right?  I’m not exactly a fluent New Yorker.  The first medium-tier hotel that pops up, I pop the number of into my phone.  I’ve mastered, I’ve decided, hotel phone interactions.  My first few were creaky – some would say terrified – but while I never had the telephone-training of the 80’s, I was born in them, so I reasoned it must flow in my veins.  I typed out all of the event info in case I panic.  But I’m not going to panic.  Hotels have a front desk, and they’ll send me to their event sales team, and those people will hem and haw about dates and then give me a quote I’m not supposed to like.  I’ve got this.

I was immediately routed into a computer reservations line. I hit the panic button – 0.  Will you please type your reservation number?  a recorded woman’s voice coos.  Crap – I # the back-up panic button.

A heavily-accented young man tells me I’ve arrived at reservations.  “Can you connect me to event sales?” I ask.  He’s confused.  “Room sales, reservations?”  “No,” I haggle, “Event space sales, do you have event spaces here that you rent?”  “Uhhhh–” He hits HIS panic button.  Immediately a woman picks up.

“Reservations.”

Barely does the word event pass my lips before she chimes “Group Sales” and hits another button.  Now, now we’re getting somewhere, button by button, climbing the telephone ladder.

A robotic man’s voice asks me which hotel I’m trying to make a reservation at.  Nope!  I want to ask Group Sales if they have multiple Manhattan locations, I decide, so I can pick between them.  Ahhh, I chuckle to myself silently, I am so clever.  If don’t answer, the robot will have to hand me back right away.

I’m going to need to know which hotel you’d like to make reservations at the voice patiently repeats, with a hint of human annoyance.  Damn!  It’s patient.  I can’t outwait it. I can’t hit a panic button, lest I be routed all the way back to the confused man at the front desk.

But if the robot can’t easily interpret my answer, it’ll hand me off.  “I’d like to speak to a service representative!” I say forcefully.  Maybe it’s even automated to recognize the words and put me through.  I chortle emphatically.

I’m going to put you through to a service representative, but first I need you would tell me what hotel you’d like to make reservations at.

Robotic pushback.   The tones are complex, irritated.  I’m too stunned to say anything for a minute.  Finally, defeated, I mumble the name of the specific hotel location I got the number from.

Just a second.  The voice turns audibly to the side, followed by some quick, emphatic typing.  Nice, I’ll finally get through.  Typing.  Typing?

Oh crap!  I’d though this voice was too nuanced, to aggrevatingly human to be a robot!  I’d just told a service representative that I’d like to speak to a service representative!  And worse yet, their job was SO DEHUMANIZING that they had sadly agreed to do so – if only I’d let them do their job first.

Oh please let them transfer me. Oh please, please.  Don’t make me fess up to my mistakes, just hit that button and send me to the golden city of Group Sales.  I could almost see it, just ahead.

The typing finished.  Thank you.  And how many meeting rooms will you be needing?  The voice was back, and distinctly recorded.

“Is this a person or a robot?” I blurted out.

There was a slight pause.  I am an automated service recording, but I understand what you’re saying, and I can help you take care of your…

Oh God.  It’s self-aware.

…reservation and then pass you along to a service representative.  How many meeting rooms will you be needing?

Don’t hit the panic button, don’t do it.

“Uhh – none – unless you count the event space?”

Just a moment.  It typed in my answer.  No – no – it pretended to type my answer?  Don’t hit the panic button, it’s not worth it.

Thank you for waiting.  Please hold while I connect you.

I breathed, finally, long, and sort of choked it out in the silence of waiting.

From far-off, a woman’s altered voice said, mechanically, Please hold.  It was a mechanical blip in a field of silence.  No music, no — I left the music behind long ago, in the lobby.

I had thought I could see Group Sales up ahead, but now I saw only whiteness – silence.  Was this Group Sales?  Did they even know of my purgatorial existence, waiting?

Please hold.

A minute passed.

Please hold.

I wasn’t paniced anymore.

Please hold.

It was slapdash, the occational message.  They knew I would stay, holding here, forever.  Every minute or so, they wanted to remind me I was alive, held by the silence.

Please hold.

I could almost measure time by it, if I hadn’t long ago left time behind.

….

….

….

I’m still holding.  Are you still here?

Your call cannot be connected though to its destination.  Please hang up and dial the toll-free number again.

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