Sunday, November 22, 2009

Voice Menus

Recently when my fuse box was humming, I called the electric company. Their recording said to press 2 for "electrical emergencies." When I did, I was shuttled deeper into voice menus. I wanted to talk to an actual human, so I called back and pressed the option for "downed wires." Yes, that mistruth made me the kind of miscreant I work hard to protect myself from every day. But I did reach someone, who told me to turn off everything in my house.

When I did that, the fuse box stopped humming. But my brain is still humming over hitting the option for something as serious as "electrical emergency" and getting thrown into yet another voice menu abyss. Seems like I'm constantly talking to overly cheery computer voices for minutes on end every time I call Verizon, Wachovia, or Pick-a-Corporation. Meanwhile, I think the only thing I've actually ever managed to accomplish successfully through voice menus is to accidentally deposit my money into someone else's account.

What's next? Will voice menus eventually invade even the 9-1-1 emergency reporting system?

I'm afraid some day I'll dial "9-1-1" and hear, "Thanks for calling. Your call is very important to us. Please listen carefully to the following options, as our menu may have changed since the last time you inadvertently amputated an appendage. To report an accident, press 1. For systemic events such as heart attack or stroke, press 2. For crimes of passion, like beating the nearest living thing to death with a telephone due to the frustration of being trapped in a voice menu, press 3."

And if I press 1? "If you're on fire, say or dial F-I-R-E. All other callers, stay on the line and the next available voice menu will be happy to assist you." On choosing "Fire": "If you were grilling chicken, press 7. For steaks or venison, press 7 as well. If you weren't grilling, press 8-2-4-5-pound-star-0-2-6, or say, 'German Chocolate Cake.'" And I love the most common response from Cyber Sue: "I'm sorry, I didn't get that. Let's try again." Trying again is hard though once you have angrily pulverized the phone with your back molars.

I fear that this is the situation the electronic epoch will bring upon us. Compound that with the fact that more and more voicemail systems will try to sell you something along the way. If you're ever kidnapped, and are lucky enough to reach a phone, you may hear a voice menu say: "We’d be glad to rescue you. Please enter the latitude and longitude of your location. If you don't know the coordinates, press 1 to purchase a GPS."

The good news is that voice menus can only infiltrate phone systems, right? It's not like these menus will degrade our quality of living in other arenas. If you disagree, press 1. To end this paragraph, press 2. To finish reading this blog post, press 3. Or if you just want to go back to the days before we even had telephones, please hang up.