READ ALL ABOUT IT: Don't Call The Phone Company To Talk To A Human

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At 5:30 a.m. one morning recently, following one of our summer rains, we were awakened by our home security system beeping an alarm that something was wrong in our house. I am not the best in coordination or clear thinking when awakened from a sound sleep and the burglar alarm going off didn't help matters. I also can't see real well without my glasses and the alarm panel display containing the message of what was wrong looked like the image of Big Foot on a home video.

After figuring out that the alarm's warning was that our phone service was out and after getting my heart back into rhythm, I attempted to call the phone company with my cell phone to see when they could repair our line. Rain only affects my cell phone if I leave it outside, but my landline phone goes out during heavy dew.

You will notice I used the word "attempted" in the last paragraph, because that is all I accomplished for about an hour. Once my glasses were in place and I could read the instructions from the phone directory on whom to call, I began the process of trying to talk to a human.

The first request I received from the computer-controlled answering service was to push 1 for English or 2 for Spanish. After pushing 1 it seemed like that was the last time that English was really spoken or that anything was ever understood during the whole ordeal.

The computer now begins to explain to me that repairs may be reported by going on the company's web site. That's great. I live in the country with only dial-up service available to me and once the phone line goes out, my Internet service becomes as useless as a sidesaddle on a hog.

Now, the humanoid on the other end of my cell call tells me that if I still need service to push 1 again. Still needing service, I push 1 and the computer tells me that it will now test my line to see if it can find the trouble and I would be put on hold while it performs the test. While on hold, a message is played telling me about all the upgrades that are available to me as a phone company customer. Yeah, right. I am now a customer without service, unable to talk to anyone but a machine and expecting a call any minute from Publisher's Clearing House to tell me if I am a winner or not. I have now reached the stage of talking to my cell phone like it was a human who really cared what I thought about the service of the phone company.

The computer comes back on the line and says it finds nothing wrong with my outside lines and I need to check all my phones and equipment to see if anything is unplugged. Before I could answer, the computer tells me to have a good day and hangs up.

I now go about the house plugging and unplugging phones, computers and anything else that resembles a phone line. I also have advanced to the stage of mumbling to myself about the phone company and how I would like to get a hold of that computer's voice chip.

Of course, after all of this plugging and unplugging I still do not have a working phone. Once again, I call the repair service on my cell phone and get Mrs. Computer. I push all of the ones, talk in a clear voice to answer the questions and get placed in a repair service holding pattern for what seemed like the rest of my life. After another line test, Mrs. Computer tells me they are having trouble with their system and they will call me later if I will give them a phone number to call.

By mid-afternoon I finally got to talk to a real live human. She was real nice and told me they would try to have my phone repaired in the next four days by 5:30 p.m. if that was okay with me.

Of course, that had to be all right with me since I don't own a phone company and the climbing of tall poles is not in my job description. However, my phone was repaired sooner than four days and I just hope it stays that way for a long time.

Where have all of the humans gone? When you can't communicate with the company that has done more in this country to increase communications than anyone else over the years, we do have a problem. We have finally reached the point were the job of "service" has been assigned to a computer, while we humans are just sitting around Twittering.

- Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at
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