Of all the creepy things in the world, talking to a computerized voice has to be one of the creepiest. Over the past week, I’ve had several conversations with Verizon’s robo-spokeswoman, and every time I’ve felt as if I were playing a role in a weird horror movie where a big-headed doll was speaking to me. Verizon has chosen a woman’s voice to simulate a conversation with subscribers who, let’s say, might call to say that Verizon workmen had cut their FIOS cable for the second time in four days.
The chatty female Verizon voice does not give her name, but I have named her Vira. Vira begins by explaining all the other ways I might reach Verizon, such as going to the web. If she were human, I would explain that those other ways are impossible, since Verizon’s workmen have cut the cable that provides TV, phone, and internet service. She asks if I’m calling about the number of the phone which I hold in my hand. Vira must have caller ID. If she were human, she would know by this time that I’m using a cellphone to call her because Verizon’s workmen have cut my cable. Again. For the second time in four days. But Vira is a computer, so I merely say, “No.” I know from experience that saying anything other than “No” or “Yes” causes Vira to get agitated and say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite get that.” Then she repeats the question.
After I’ve answered more of Vira’s questions, she says, “Okay, I’ve got your records.” That’s when I imagine her head spinning and her eyes growing very large and malevolent because having a computerized voice say “Okay, I’ve got your records” is just plain weird. Vira is a talking computer and I wish she’d just shut up and connect me to a repair person who could take my address and give me some idea of a day when somebody might come lay a third cable to my house. But she doesn’t, and nobody comes, and so I call several more times and speak to Vira again. And again. After a while I begin to imagine a hint of shame creeping into Vira’s voice, as if she realizes how ludicrous the whole thing is. I wonder if Vira once hoped for something more for herself. Running a race car, maybe, or doing complex math problems.
On my last call, Vira and I went through all the standard Q and A, but after she said, “Okay, I’ve got your records,” she let a long pause go by. Then, with almost a sob in her voice, she said, “From looking at your records, I think it would be best if you spoke to a technician.” I imagined a tear of defeat rolling down her cheek, but I did not feel sorry for her.