Wednesday, July 02, 2003

On with the thread of human contact.
I talked to a lady today about the federal loan application process we use at the school. Students have to go online, read, answer questions, etc. It's funny. The process is supposed to make things easier, but some people call and complain about how it's actually more difficult.
And you've always got the people who seem to be calling just to vent. Like this lady. She spent about 10 minutes telling me about their frustrations with the website and when it was over:
"So, ma'am, were you able to complete the process? How far are you?"
"Oh, we already finished."
"I just wanted to was hard."
"I understand, ma'am."
There was an almost audible sigh. I could feel her tension release. I didn't make her any promises or do the customer service grovel. But I understood her frustration. And I wasn't just giving her a line.
Automatic teller machines, answering machines, unmanned electronic car washes, automated customer service reps. I have a calling card that I "refill" every once in a while. You used to talk to a person and they'd ask you which of the options you wanted, verified your number and said, "Thank you very much for calling AT&T, and you have a nice day sir." Now there is one of those female computer voices. "Please hold while your transaction is verified."(a weird clickety noise like someone typing) "Thank you. Your refill is available for your use immediately. Goodbye." I spent 15 minutes on the phone when I was filing my state taxes just trying to get a hold of a person so I could ask a question which didn't fit into the FAQs.
Inevitably, though, I think the reason we go searching like that is for contact -- to be recognized, to be understood. For assurance that we're not just a number, more liable to get lost in a digital age than an explorer would be wandering in the Australian outback. If you're recognized and you get lost, someone misses you, notices that you're gone, or at least that something is not complete. If you're just a number, you're only so much deleted or misfiled data, another paper on someone's desk.
Perhaps that's why we search the stars. We're looking for a personal rep on the cosmic customer service line; someone who actually cares.

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