Did you ever try to have a conversation with a computer that sounds human but isn’t? Last night my computer stopped connecting to Internet Explorer, something it has always done perfectly. All that advice in the manual to go to xyz website was useless because I couldn’t go to any website. Now, I didn’t know whether the problem was my computer, my Internet provider or all those American Idol voters going online simultaneously. (Actually I was trying to vote at the time).

Anyway, I called my Internet company. If it wasn’t their problem, perhaps they could tell me whose it was. That’s when I encountered THE VOICE. I’ve met her before, calling about insurance, credit cards, and other frustrations. In fact, sometimes the voice calls me. My pharmacy, for example, has THE VOICE call to tell me I have a prescription waiting. I didn’t ask for any prescriptions, but apparently she decided I needed more drugs and didn’t want me to run out. When I ask, “What prescription?” she starts over, letting me know that my prescription is ready and I can pick it up until X date. Then she thanks me for using her pharmacy and says “Good-bye” in an obscenely cheerful voice.

I also get calls from a place where I used to work, warning me about the weather. There. Far away. Where I don’t work anymore. I can’t make her stop. She’s stalking me.

You’ve probably heard THE VOICE, too. When you call for help, she comes on all sweet and smart-sounding, sort of like your first grade teacher–Miss Dalton in my case. She says hello, you say hello back, and she asks how she can help. Then, just as you start to tell your tale of woe, she interrupts with a menu of options, none of which are exactly what you’re looking for. At that point, you know she is not human, but she sounds so human you want to shake her and say, “Hey, listen to me.”

So, THE VOICE gave me all these options, and I said, “No, no, no, no,” barely restraining myself from cursing. Remember, I had already been cursing at my computer for an hour. So she reset, just like Miss Dalton would have done. I picture this woman looking like the mothers in our 1960s grammar school books, tall and pretty, dressed in a slim gray skirt, her hair a halo of reddish curls, her eyes blue and her lips very red. Like Miss Dalton. She would bend down, put a comforting hand on my shoulder and say, “All right, let’s try this. Is your question about billing or service?”

Ah, something I could answer. “Service!”

“Fine.” She gave four options, e-mail, Internet, networking and none of the above. I said, “Internet.” Then she offered, “Can’t connect at all, can’t connect intermittently,” and one other thing that didn’t apply. “No,” I said. “I can’t get into Internet Explorer.” That was not one of the options. She repeated: Can’t connect at all, can’t connect intermittently, that one other thing, and oh yes, none of the above. Well…it’s Internet, but …

As I hesitated, she gave me the list again. Sighing, I said, “Can’t connect at all” (not with her at least). Finally, she said, “Please hold.” As I waited, I prayed that the next respondent would be human. I mean human right at that moment. Clearly THE VOICE was created using a real woman, but when and how I just don’t know. As I waited, I heard soft music and then, THE VOICE telling me how great this company was and listing all the wonderful services I ought to be using. She also suggested that I could find solutions to my own problems by going to X, Y, and Z websites.

Hello, that’s the problem!

Then I looked at my computer, and it was working again. My home page was there in all its glory. I hung up on THE VOICE.

Author: Sue Fagalde Lick

writer/musician California native, Oregon resident Author of Freelancing for Newspapers, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams, Stories Grandma Never Told, Childless by Marriage, and Up Beaver Creek. Most recently, I have published two poetry chapbooks, Gravel Road Ahead and The Widow at the Piano: Confessions of a Distracted Catholic. I have published hundreds of articles, plus essays, fiction and poetry. I'm also pretty good at singing and playing guitar and piano.

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