Monday, August 22, 2011

This Does Not Compute

Compared to a computer, I'm pretty stupid. Of course, the vast majority of humans, quite a few dogs and Cuddles the Cat are also smarter than I. This is something I can deal with. After all, I've been dealing with it all my life, so I've plenty of experience. But I don't think there is any reason for computers to get snooty, which they seem to be doing more frequently.

The computer's favorite deadly sin has always been pride. Every computer of my acquaintance has had the temerity to question my spelling. Not that that takes much temerity. My spelling is nothing to write home about, and if I did, using pen and ink, the missive would be full of misplaced letters, along with a sea of letters that don't belong there, which I make room for by leaving out a host of letters that do.

But there is no excuse for the computer's I-can-spell-it-and-you-can't-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah attitude. Still, gentleman that I am, I do my best to treat the computer with kindness and respect. When I mystify it with words like "Ashtabula," "Conneaut," and "Pymatuning," I don't get all haughty and remind it that it isn't as perfect as it thinks. No, I enhance the computer's knowledge by adding those words to its database.

The computer is never understanding, patient or kind. There I am, typing away at a brisk pace and, in my haste to transfer some brilliant idea from my brain to a Word document, I put the "i" before the "e," when it should be the other way around. A well-mannered computer would hold its tongue, or whatever, and allow the powerful intellectual surge continue unabated. But no. The impatient, impertinent, impolite computer immediately throws an ugly squiggly line beneath the word in question.

How am I supposed ignore this? I know what's going to happen. I'll press F7, and the computer will produce a box highlighting the uniquely spelled word. Below that, there is a box labeled "Suggestions," below which appear the words "No Suggestions." This is the computer saying, "You idiot. Not only did you misspell the word, you've mangled it so badly I can't even begin to guess what word you're trying to spell."

It's as if I'm in seventh grade again. "Hey, Mom, how do you spell 'empathetic'?"

"Look it up in the dictionary."

"How can I look it up if I don't know how to spell it?"

"Sound it out. It's spelled just like it sounds."

"You say that about all the words. I don't think you can spell them."

"I certainly can spell them, every last one of them."

"I know you can. You're the smartest, prettiest mom in the whole world, and you tell me to look up the words so I'll develop character and self-sufficiency. But I'm really stumped, and nobody can help me as well as you do. Please, Mom, it would mean so much to me."

And with that, in a wondrous display of empathy, Mom was at my side helping me make my way through the dictionary. You can compliment the computer from now til doomsday, but it will never reward you with empathy or help you out. All you can do is keep guessing and hope you eventually come close enough to some actual word that the computer will offer a suggestion or two.

To make matters worse, computers are now making telephone calls. I got one the other day from the computer that works for an insurance company with which I do business. The computer said, "We have some important information to share with you." Then she - the computer had a decidedly feminine voice - told me that the phone call might be taped. This had something to do with customer service. Perhaps the company is afraid she might fly off the handle and yell unkind things about me. She went on to tell me the company is also security conscience, and with that in mind she needed to ask my birth date. I told her, and she said, "I didn't understand. Please say the month, day and year of your birth." Three times we did this, with her getting snippier each time.

Why do companies insist on having computers make telephone calls when they could easily hire people in New Delhi or Mumbai to make calls for them? Sure, there would be some problems with accents and their grasp of the English language. But George W. Bush has those difficulties, and he was president for eight years. Besides, when you, the customer, lose your temper and start hurling imprecations, isn't it better when there is a real person whose day you can ruin at the other end? What good is unleashing a string of heartfelt obscenities if after each one the computer says nothing more than, "I didn't understand. Please say the month, day and year of your birth."

Once the computer lady decided my diction was beyond hope, she said, "Using your touch-tone phone, key in the month, day and year of your birth, and then press the pound sign. For instance, if you were born on August 21, 1980, you will key in O-8-2-1-1-9-8-0." I did, and she hung up.

She called back a few minutes later. But I'm still waiting for an apology.

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