Too important

Teresa photographed me with our lovely waitress at the Small Talk Tea Shop in England.
For more on Teresa and this photo, taken in July, 2017, read this post.

“Human beings are too important to be treated as mere symptoms of the past. They have a value which is independent of any temporal process──which is eternal, and must be felt for its own sake.” Lytton Strachey

I had a rough week, interacting with robotic systems that were creating errors related to banking, finance and other necessities of daily life. By jumping through various automated obstacles, I contacted actual human beings to try to correct such mundane problems as my checking and saving account statements being sent, for no apparent reason, to an outdated address that was changed nine months ago. I was chagrined to discover how powerless the employees are, to correct or even understand the computer-driven systems that have taken over most business tasks in today’s world.

Even though my problems were “escalated” (to use popular business lingo) to higher-level departments, the people at those levels were equally stymied in their attempts to figure out what was happening, and why. I was left mulling over the brave new world of artificial so-called intelligence that now controls and too often bungles so many aspects of daily life. My conclusion is that I am finished with robots; all is over between us, insofar as I can manage to disentangle myself from such systems. Of course, much is already beyond our ability to control it, but I will continue to seek out humans for as many interactions as I possibly can.

The first thing I did was take steps to sever a 31-year dependence on online banking, which served us well through many military moves, but which is no longer functioning efficiently or even adequately. (My recent problems were part of an ongoing pattern of similarly inexplicable errors.) I went to an actual, brick-and-mortar bank branch and opened several accounts to which I intend to transition all my business. While the bank is part of yet another gargantuan corporation that relies, as all do, on computers, at least I had contact with real people to whom I can turn when such problems surface in the future, as they undoubtedly will. This represents an improvement over calling an 800 number and getting a different person each time, telling the same story over and over.

There are other ways to step away from impersonal encounters with robots. Months ago, I began doing something many of you already are doing: making an effort to deal with local businesses insofar as I reasonably can. Other small steps include focusing on face-to-face interaction as often as possible, writing real, physical letters in my own unique handwriting, and reminding myself to make eye contact and smile at people I encounter, however briefly, in the course of a day. Interacting primarily with machines can make us lose our humanity– I really believe that– and I’m not going to give it up without a fight.

Another thing I realized is that technology allows us to stay home far too much, especially in cold weather. There’s nothing wrong with being happy to stay home. Feeling content in our own cozy nest is one of life’s great pleasures. But there’s a risk: it can lead to becoming increasingly isolated from our communities, robbing us of what other people have to offer us, and depriving them of our own contributions.

I think travel is so invigorating because it forces us out of our cocoons and puts us face to face with people who are friendly, often fascinating, and completely new to us. We have much to learn from people we have not yet met. All such encounters are helpful insofar as they allow us to practice courtesy, communication and congeniality, all of which atrophy when we deal mostly with robots.

I’m no Luddite. I love technology, and my presence here at this blog is exhibit A that demonstrates my enthusiasm for the gifts of digital progress. However, in addition to the reservations described above, there is a darker side to technology that became apparent to me as I dealt with the frustrations of the past week. I noticed how much easier I found it to become hostile and rude with people with whom I spoke over the phone, when they seemed unhelpful or dismissive of my difficulties.

When not face to face with another person, it’s far too easy to vent and even shout when I become irritated. This is especially true if I’m speaking with a nameless person I’m unlikely ever to reach again, at one of those branched-out call centers with locations in multiple cities, teeming with employees whose conversations one can overhear buzzing in the background. Such inadequate approaches to customer service underscore how minuscule any one person’s problems must seem to this mammoth corporation. Call center employees are normally powerless to do much, and rarely can they even return a phone call or pass the problem on to someone who might be able to help. No wonder it’s so infuriating to deal with them.

However understandable my anger might be in such situations, venting it accomplishes nothing good. Accordingly, I’m going to avoid such call centers as much as I can. That might not be possible in many cases, but there still do exist businesses that have local representatives one can consult in person. Even if it costs more to deal with them, I’ve decided it’s worth it.

Many of us have been raging against the machine for a long time, but I’m ready to do more than rage. One way I am choosing to defeat despair is to go retro with how I conduct my business. How about you? Do you have any happy encounters to relate, whether in your home town or on the road, that will inspire us with faith that the robots have not yet irrevocably taken over? Can you point us to companies that have made a commitment to put people over profits? As Strachey says, people have a value that transcends any temporal process. How can we live out our understanding of that eternal truth?

32 Comments

  1. I’m with you! I will make a conscious effort to take back my control over interacting with robots and robotic people. I worked in several call centers for phone and cable companies. I know the frustration on both sides. Love to you and Matt sweet friend!💟. Love and Light🌞🌞🌞 Cherie

    • Hi Cherie, thanks for your encouragement. Yes, I too worked in airline reservations which was a call center. Fortunately I got mostly very happy calls from people planning vacation etc. but you’re right, it can be frustrating on both sides, especially when the companies tie the hands of the call center employees where they cannot really help people and can’t pass them on to someone who can. At the airline I could always find a supervisor who could waive rules and solve problems when they came up, so it was almost always a happy ending. But that was nearly 30 years ago and much has changed. I may find that face-to-face interaction is no less frustrating in this world that seems to have forgotten customer service. But I intend to give it a try. Hop you are doing well! Matt and I keep you in our prayers. ❤

  2. Chris

    Julia,
    Your story, from a service perspective, is not new. As you rightly have pointed out, the service model utilized by so many companies today is dependent upon more technology than ever before. Often, the front line service rep is woefully lacking in training. Not to mention that the rep is usually from a much younger generation, which often is lacking in empathy as well as basic social skills. This, coupled with frustration, makes your experience unforgettable, and not in a pleasant way!
    Your resolve to have more personal interaction with people in pursuit of business interests is a normal response. As I am in the financial service business, I get it! However, many never get it; until something happens like happened to you. There are many personal advisors in the world of finance; many just as I am – dedicated to the well being of clients. Yet, sadly, there are also many wolves in sheep’s clothing.
    One of the issues you hit upon that run’s prevalent in society today is so many people want something for nothing. Businesses want to improve margins; individuals want to invest with “no fees”. From a profitability standpoint, good ideas. From a practical standpoint, not the wisest. There’s an “expense” for every course of action. Yes, “peace of mind” may cost a little extra, but there is value in that proposition.
    One of the best ways to become more self-aware is talk with your friends and neighbors that live in your neighborhood/community. A good friend would be glad to share their experiences with finance. A personal referral is a good way to explore and find new ways and people to conduct business with.
    One of my favorite capitalists was Malcolm Forbes, Sr. Many many years ago, when he ran the business, he concluded each publication (Forbes magazine) in the back cover with an “observation”. The title of his brief snippet was, “With all thy getting, get understanding.” That has never escaped me. It’s a grounding principle, and a forewarning. My take on it is the “golden rule”: treat others the way you would want to be treated.
    I hope you have a better week this week. Take a deep breath, no yelling; and just remember, God loves you! 😊
    Email me if you have any questions about what I said.

    • Chris, thanks so much for these thoughts (especially the last one 🙂 ) and your points are well taken. The whole idea of expecting everything to be “free” causes many problems. One thing my Daddy drilled into me is that “there is no free lunch” — in his words. What he was saying is that everything has a cost and someone pays it even if the person wanting “free” stuff is unaware of it. But as consumers (and increasingly, as citizens!) we are bombarded continually with misleading promises of all sorts of “free” or “cheap” things (the latter often subsidized by overworked and underpaid employees somewhere), and we fall for it way too often. One thing that helps me NOT regard cost as the most important factor, is to realize that paying for goods or services that I genuinely need (vs. things that just seem free or too cheap to pass up) not only helps me, but also enables someone else to earn a living. Thanks again for your comments, much food for thought here.

  3. I miss the days of knowing who my bank tellers were and the checkers at the market. Everything is done online or with a machine. Sad, sad, sad. I’m with you though I can’t disconnect entirely for different reasons. I hate not being able to talk to an intelligent human being when a problem arises. But I do not like my banking business going into the mail. So much gets lost and winds up in unauthorized hands. Our postal system is no longer adequate for the load that it’s carrying, A great deal of the cards I mail out never make it to their destinations. I’m glad you’ve had some resolution. Have a wonderfilled week, Julia.

    • M, I worked for a couple of years as a bank teller, and it was one of the best and most fun jobs I ever had. The reason was the customers. As a smaller bank in a big city, we got to know nearly all our customers, and most of them were great fun; almost all were interesting in some way, and a few of them were totally fascinating. Some brought us gifts and little treats, many visited with us as we counted their deposits, if business was slow and there were no lines. Some would come by to bid us farewell when they moved on to other cities. I still remember over a dozen of those customers by name. In fact, years later I ran into one of them at an airport and we visited briefly. It was wonderful. This is what today’s generation can hardly imagine. Like you, I avoid having financial things in the mail whenever I can. There is far too much theft and mis-delivered mail. Almost every week I get someone else’s mail and sometimes it’s very important things such as credit cards and in one case, my neighbor’s paycheck. I didn’t know that’s what it was until I walked it over to his house and rang his doorbell — needless to say he was greatly relieved to get it and more than a little irritated that it went to the wrong house! I think the post office does an amazing job with the volume of mail it receives, but it too is being affected by outside factors that once were not as problematic as they are now. Hope you have a wonderfilled week too! 😀

  4. MaryAnn Clontz

    Perfect!
    1. My 1st reaction is to the joy in the photo. It flies in the face of those who quote: “People Come Into Your Life For A Reason, A Season Or A Lifetime.” I cherish people in my life. My motto is: I do not have throw-away friends!
    2. Next reaction is technology. I totally agree face-to-face is BEST! Interacting with others is primary to sharing the Love of Jesus!
    Social media is the TIME thief! My heart aches when I see people in a restaurant using cell phone, while ignoring companions! (Also, in cars, in homes +++)
    Julia, please continue to beat the drum, so we can communicate with those we love, those we meet, those who are yet to add to our lives!
    Another point wherein we are twins. My rants are similar.
    Much love! (Is it April, yet?)

    • Mary Ann, I agree with you about friends. Once a co-worker with whom I grew close had to move away, and she asked whether I thought we would keep in touch. I told her honestly that it would be her decision; I said “nobody ever leaves my life except by their own choice.” By that I meant that as long as someone makes the effort to stay in touch with me, I will reciprocate. Alas, in the busyness of life I’m not as good at keeping that promise as I once was. But it’s still an ideal for which I strive. As a military family who moved frequently, our lives were divided into many chapters based on geographic proximity, but I am so blessed to be able to say that I am still in touch with people from every chapter of my life, going all the way back to childhood. I don’t contact them nearly as frequently as I would like, but whenever I do we are right back to where we were so many years ago, as if we had never been apart. This is what has sustained me through catastrophic losses. No, it’s not April yet, but it will be here before we know it! We shall have many rant-a-thons over hot tea! 😀 😀 😀

      • MaryAnn Clontz

        YES!

  5. We live in a global world that offers immediate connection. And yet, the most important conversations are with people that we meet face to face. I agree – I enjoy shopping at local businesses. It’s a great way to get out and walk.

    • I really miss being within walking distance of the shops, grocery, post office and restaurants. They are supposedly going to build a town center a half mile from my new home, but the train station has to come first, and it keeps being delayed by bureaucratic red tape. Perhaps I should drive to shopping areas and walk from there. It still will require a car 😦 , but a hybrid approach may be better than none!

      • We are going to see some interesting things happen in transportation. Exciting times!

        • I’m still holding out hope for when they can beam us up to another place, like on Star Trek. That will definitely cut traffic AND fuel consumption! 😀

  6. Judy from Pennsylvania

    As always, you give me something to reflect upon. I read and re-read this latest posting so that I could think about all the points that you made. Hubby and I haven’t yet acquired a modern cellphone, just an old flip-phone for emergency use. And we don’t trust online banking. But we do order some things off the internet and we do use a couple of charge cards.

    Even then, errors have occurred. Last year the IRS never got the taxes that our credit union sent them in a ‘batch electronic transfer’ of monies collected from customers’ accounts for the IRS. What a mess that was trying to get the credit union and IRS to synchronize and fix their books.

    Also, my ID was stolen in 2 different mass breaches of internet security and so now we must do extra paperwork to make sure we get refunds due from the IRS. The IRS wants us to get a special PIN from them to facilitate the process from now on out. Except that they require we have a mobile phone and texting to get the PIN. Our flip phone doesn’t do that.

    Strange, this new world of technology that gives us quick, convenient ways of doing things and, at the same time, crazy mixups that are so hard to untangle. Don’t even get me started on the implications of computers and ‘the grid’ controlling all aspects of our complicated infrastructure — power plants, delivery systems, communications. What could possibly go wrong?

    We do live in interesting times. Blessing or curse? Both maybe?

    • Judy, yes, it’s both a blessing and a curse, I think. I wouldn’t know you or many other lovely people if not for technology, but the dark side of digital domination can be maddening at times! I too had a well-loved old flip phone that I was forced to retire because so many businesses now require apps and so many people rely on texting as their primary or only means of communication. I do like my smart phone (which sometimes seems not so smart to me) but as with so many other things, it’s a trade-off. It doesn’t help matters that technology evolves at a speed that’s impossible to keep up with, especially for those of us who grew up in a world free of computers. Interesting times indeed!

  7. raynard

    Julia, I’m not required to use computers at work. Back in the day, I had to write a lot of reports using ” word”.( I prefer Google Documents). I never didn’t online banking. Gave up on it after I couldn’t remember my password. I do use Amazon for certain things I don’t have time to go to the store and me, yes me” don’t do malls. As for cell phone, I only talk to Mary. If I can’t get her” Plan B Facebook Messenger bails me out. I still buy and send physical greeting cards( I inherited that from my late mother. At work, I do a lot of eye contact and smiling. When I speak on the phone at work, if I use my last name” no one knows who I am. Let’s see we have Daylight Saving this coming weekend. Then 15 days till Officially Spring. But more snow coming this week the temps in the teens. Someone has cherry blossoms somewhere to look at. I heard Rita’s Italian Water Ice is open but ” it’ not warm enough for me yet. .Need your advice. Mary is planning a first cruise for us. Where would a good place to set sail”other than “Alaska” lol

    • Raynard, you are lucky you can avoid computers at work. Believe it or not, you introduced me to several things that I use often now, most notably Google Voice which I now use for my landline VOIP phones at both homes and the price is right at zero per month. Also I will never forget that Mary had to teach me how to answer my smart phone when I first got it. Remember when y’all were trying to call me while on the road to meet me and I kept having to call you back because I couldn’t answer my own phone? I digress…YES, I am glad daylight savings time is this weekend although I hate giving up that hour of sleep. But it’s COLD today and I am wondering what the ground hog was smoking when he predicted an early spring. I’ll head to Rita’s when it gets warmer, assuming I can find one. About cruises, how much time have you got? All are wonderful in my opinion but where you go will depend on how long you are able to be away, what you want to do when you get there and what time of year you want to go. The Caribbean or Mexico cruises are cheapest and most plentiful but I’d avoid them in the summer, they are much more fun when you can leave the snow behind for that magical Caribbean sunshine. A New England or California cruise is good if you want to get used to cruising without fooling with passports, language barriers etc. But my favorite cruise of all was our Mediterranean cruise which was the trip of a lifetime. But you’d have to have at least 2 weeks off for that, which is very hard to manage for any of us.

  8. Hooray!
    Good morning, Julia!
    I am so glad that you are taking this approach. I have often wondered if it would be more efficient to drive half an hour (each way, when there’s no traffic) to the airport to straighten out flight changes or ticket issues and such. I don’t think that the persons at the airlines counter typically have much more authority than someone I’d have to wait on hold to talk to, but they still appear to work on creative solutions more readily; at least that’s been my experience. And just forget about solutions on-line, in many cases.
    Thanks for sharing your inspiring determination!

    • Susan, when I worked for USAir nearly 30 years ago, a secret that frequent fliers knew is that, when a flight cancelled and the lines at the ticket counter were L-O-N-G, they would simply step over to a pay phone (this was before cell phones were common) and call the reservations center and re-book over the phone, before all the flights sold out. People at the end of the line would wait sometimes an hour or more only to get to the counter and find out all the flights had sold out to passengers from the cancelled flight who got there first! Now, I’m not sure that would work at all anymore. BUT, you are right, people at the ticket counter generally have more leeway AND more sympathy (at least we did in my day) because the priority is getting that flight out on time with as many people as we can pack onto it, and rules are waived more easily in such circumstances. The call center, being one step removed from the reality of a busy airport, is often less affected by the urgency that the gate and counter agents deal with all the time. I worked all three locations and loved all, for different reasons, but all definitely had their challenges! When I was forced onto the ramp for one season due to a union dispute that had all the senior ramp staff bidding back to the counter, loading planes and tugs was physically exhausting but much less stressful!

  9. I understand your frustration, Julia.
    But I will leave you with this:
    Vex not thy spirit at the course of things; they heed not thy vexation. How ludicrous and outlandish is astonishment at anything that may happen in life.”
    Marcus Aurelius
    -Alan

    • Thanks Alan. That’s great, and “ludicrous and outlandish” are very apt terms, despite Aurelius having lived in ancient times. Funny how humans and the worlds they create really don’t change all that much, when you get right down to it.

  10. Sheila

    Good Thursday morning, my dear friend. Yikes‼️ I really can’t believe it’s another week passing so quickly. Dr. Vann referenced it as “the window of time” that goes faster as it becomes smaller. Really yikes‼️ I am forever grateful for the pen pal, acquaintance, friend, Verandah buddy, and southern sister that I found in the cyber world! That’s you! ♥️ I contacted Amazon this week for more information regarding a statement charge that I couldn’t recall. As the helpful person, then more people, were researching the matter my personal computer (aka brain) clicked in! I didn’t receive a package but I recalled I’d ordered and shipped a nice mattress topper to my Marine grandson In Okinawa,Japan! “Please note that resolved to customer’s satisfaction!” I hope you and Matt are having a nice week!

    • Sheila, I had a similar Amazon “error” this morning that turned out to be my memory failing me. Alexa told me that my order had been delivered and I thought “what order?” And when I checked my front porch and nothing was there, I wondered what on earth was going on until I realized that I had ordered something to be sent to someone else. Interestingly when I had asked Alexa “what order is that” she didn’t know. News flash — ALEXA IS A ROBOT!!! 😀

      On the plus side, technology did introduce me to you and the merry band at 428! ❤ 🙂 ❤

  11. Harry Sims

    “People, people who love people are the happiest people in the world.”
    Perhaps that’s why He said – Love Your Neighbor As Yourself.

    Harry

    • Harry, I think that’s true. What confuses the issue is that loving people brings both sorrow and joy, even if only at death — but often long before that. Still, it’s more than worth it.

  12. Mike Bertoglio

    Speaking of technology, did I mention Verie does not like-hates- her new phone that I forced her to get on Consumer Celluar? She had a Verizon Razor phone which has a little key board and is more like the old Blackberry notepad-not a flat screen. She wants to go back to the old phone format.
    Did I mention how nice most service people here are in comparison to /Seattle? Yes face to face is best.
    I am on call this weekend so staying close to the base. Friday night I did go to Alpharetta to watch the North Georgia pipes and drums
    group for the St. Pattie’s day celebration. Very nice and they also had some “River Dancers” along, and they did a couple of numbers. I played drums in highschool marching band-etc. so that has been a hobby. Very colorful group in full Scottish regalia. I think they have a web site. http://www.nogpad.com

    • Mike, I didn’t know you were a drummer! In your short time in Georgia, I think you’ve explored more of it than I ever did. I’m with Verie– give me an actual keyboard over touch screen any day. I’m happy and not surprised that you are finding the service personnel to be friendlier in Georgia than on the west coast. Southern hospitality is legendary for a reason. If you’ve ever been to Texas, chances are you found it just as friendly. When southerners refer to outsiders as “Yankees” it’s usually not a reference to the war, but a personality descriptor. Often, newcomers to the south have to adjust to the chatty, “y’all come on in and take it easy” mentality of the southern personality. But for people who grew up in the south, moving away can be pretty harsh — the coldness is not just in the climate! When I first moved away, I got a few snide remarks about my accent, but I was always proud of it.

  13. Salsero1

    Seem to be lots of variations too in Southern Accents, and folks I have met from Louisiana do something different with the M sounds?

    • There are all sorts of different southern accents, that’s for sure…and I am guessing that, within Louisiana, as with each state, there are different accents in different parts of the state. In “Nawlins” (New Orleans) alone, there probably are several accents, and none like the northern part of that state. Ditto for south Georgia vs. north Georgia, east Tennessee vs. west Tennessee, etc. and I’m sure the same is true for probably every state in the union, and also for other countries. Language is fascinating!

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