Friday, September 19, 2008

Divided by Technology

I like to think I’m a reasonably patient person, though there are a few things that test that patience. Prominent among them are automated phone systems. But then again, who hasn’t been annoyed by them?

A common reason for my irritation has to do with my accent (it’s British). Odd as it may seem, on many occasions the voice recognition technology has struggled to recognize my particular brand of English.

For example, one time I was required to say the word “Texas” only to be told that my response was not recognized. Being stubborn and mischievous--while also determined to get one over on the ubiquitous computerized voice--I persisted with my take on the pronunciation (after all, everyone else can understand me so why can’t you, I thought). Still unable to proceed, I gave in and again repeated “Texas”, this time slowly drawing out the vowel sounds. I was immediately connected. Strange, isn’t it?

In an age of rapid changes human contact is being further eroded, and I am not a fan. All I really want when I need to resolve a charge on a bank statement, ask about a promotion--or whatever else it may be--is to speak to a human.

My preferred tactic is usually to play dumb so that I am automatically connected to a real person, though I suspect they are onto that one and already have plans to circumvent it.

Worst of all, perhaps like me, you’ve been on hold for a long time only to be greeted out-of-the-blue by a rather cheerful "Goodbye!"

The next time I get stuck in automated phone system hell I'll use some cockney rhyming slang and state that I want to rabbit (on the dog) with the gov’nor (speak on the phone with the manager).

Now that really would be interesting...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

"Change" is in the Air

The GOP bandwagon rolled into town this past week just as the weather began to feel more like fall. But it wasn’t only the weather that was changing.

Remarkably, the Republicans were able to wrap up their conference by stealing from the Democrats the mantle of change. After eight years of short-sighted policies and misgovernment, you’d think it was the Democrats who owned change. Not any more.

John McCain’s acceptance speech was big on change. He told the crowd that he couldn’t wait to introduce Sarah Palin to the “old, big spending, do nothing, me first, country second, Washington crowd.” He further promised that “change is coming.”

Only a week ago you’d have been hard pressed to conceive of such a turnaround in Republican fortunes, and though questions may yet surface about Sarah Palin, it appears that the Republicans have re-energized their campaign.

Perhaps in response to Palin’s speech, in which she contrasted Obama's experience to her own, the Democrats are now quiet on the experience issue; whereas the Republicans, for similar reasons, speak more of change than of experience.

As I watched the red, white, and blue balloons cascade down on the delegates I almost had to rub my eyes to convince myself that these were the incumbents. If McCain can succeed in separating himself from George Bush it would be remarkable, though count on the Democrats to continue to link them together at every opportunity.

Finally, contrast McCain’s concept of change (shaking up the government), to Obama’s (inspiring people to make change) and you have a fascinating contest. But with all the alarming things going on, can an incumbent party really successfully re-cast themselves in this way? Can they pull it off? More to the point, will voters buy it?

Change is clearly a force with a momentum of its own. But what an exciting race!