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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Randi Kreiss
Your credit card has been canceled. Have a nice day!

There was a time when you got bad news from good old-fashioned clerks, operators and bill collectors. The bad news bearers were real humans who dialed your number and stated their business: The X-ray looks scary, you need to pay your phone bill, yes, you’re pregnant or no, the insurance won’t cover your car wreck.

Yesterday I got a call just at dinner time, and it was that woman again — you know, the one with the way-too-cheerful voice, asking if I wanted to chat about my prescription drug plan. Even though she was a robot caller, she sounded so happy, and I was a little lonely. I figured we could chat. I cradled the phone between shoulder and ear, kept stirring the soup and said yes.

“You may want to know that you have fallen into the gap, also known as the donut hole,” the voice said, adding, “Do you want me to share further information?”

“Please do,” I said. She told me that I would need to spend several thousand dollars out of pocket for my medication before I could move on to a better place known as catastrophic coverage. That didn’t sound so good to me, but I was listening, and she was warming to the subject.

“Do you want me to share more information about how to reduce your drug costs?” she crooned. I knew where that was going: generic drugs made in a rat-infested lab in Bangladesh.

I told her to get lost and went back to my soup.

An hour later, a man-robot called to ask me to vote for his candidate. Thirty minutes after that, a cyber-secretary called to say that I’d won a big prize and I should call his number to collect my millions of dollars. One last call was from a recorded voice reminding my husband to go to his cardiology appointment.

It was evening, and I hadn’t spoken to a human being all day.

With the advent of robo calls and recorded messages, real-time communication has become a rare thing. When we answer the phone, it’s likely that we will be subjected to a tedious and annoying reminder or request. And that’s just calls coming in. When we call companies or government offices or professional offices these days, we can expect to “select” our way through many mechanical options before reaching a person.

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