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Technological Breakthroughs

By Marvin Druger      Email:

Talking to a real person on the phone is difficult nowadays. Yesterday, I spent several hours on the phone trying to get assistance from customer service at a local store.

The experience was frustrating and it reminded me of the time I wanted to contact Larry, a colleague in the biology department at Syracuse University.

I sat in my office and composed a lengthy email. Suddenly, I realized that Larry’s office was next door to mine. So, I abandoned the computer and walked next door to deliver my message in person. Such interactions in person have become increasingly uncommon.

We have all experienced this phenomenon.  I used my imagination to imitate and alter what all of us have heard on the phone:

“Thank you for calling Marvin Druger. You can now purchase hearing aids at a much higher price with lower quality. You can get a hearing test free at your local supermarket. If you can’t hear this message clearly, please see your doctor immediately.

If you actually want to speak to Marvin, please stay on the line after you press all the buttons. He may or may not want to speak to you.

If you can hear this message, it will be recorded for quality control and to annoy you. Please stay on the line at the end of this call for a long survey. The results will be reported to the FBI.

I am definitely a robot. Now what?

Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice message system. 777-777-777-777-777 is not available and never was. Leave a message and an automated robot will call you back in a few weeks.

Please choose from the following options:

• For English, press 1. For other languages, please hang up and start over again.

• If you want to give me money, press 2.

• If you know your party’s extension, you may press it now. If not, tough luck.

• If you want to hear terrible music while you wait, press 3.

• If this is a true medical emergency, hang up and call a real doctor, or call your mother or father.

• For any stupid comments that you want to make, please stay on the line.

• Our representatives are currently busy helping other confused customers. Your call is very unimportant to us. Please stay on the line and your call will be answered out of order whenever our representative gets a chance. You are 50th in line. If you want to waste your time waiting, please stay on the line or leave your message, name, address, phone number and Social Security number. We will call you back in about a month.

• Nobody is available to speak to you. Please hang up and call during regular business hours. Goodbye!”

If you can finally get a real person to speak to, that person doesn’t speak English well. The agent often has a heavy accent and you can’t understand a word. One day, I called customer service at an airline in the U.S.  I could not understand what the agent was saying and I kept asking him to repeat things. In despair, I finally asked him: “Where are you located? He replied, “Oh, I’m in the International Space Station.”

This is no way to communicate, especially for the over-55 population. I have a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in science. Yet, I am totally befuddled by modern technology. I suppose that I could learn to be more proficient with technology, but I am not interested in technology. I use it only when necessary.

Facebook is a commonly used technology. I almost never use Facebook. Much of what is posted is trivia and I’m not really interested in learning about the fifth grandchild of my former secretary. I have a lot of “friends” on Facebook, but I’m really not their friend.

Sometimes we are asked to identify a few undecipherable letters on the computer for verification purposes. We may also be shown a bunch of boxed areas and asked to check all those boxes that show parts of a horse’s rear end.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people now work remotely from home. Business meetings are via Zoom. I taught more than 50,000 students in my career and people often ask me how modern students differ from former ones. The answer is clearly “technology.” Every young student is familiar with technology and texting. Social media is the mode of communication. It may be helpful for people to be familiar with the latest technologies, but do they have to use it incessantly?

Would the world survive if a sudden catastrophe wiped out all the computers? What if there were no WI-FI and internet? What would happen if everyone had to have a face-to-face meeting to communicate?

To me, using the computer and learning to use all the jargon is very difficult. I mainly use email and Word. Apps are foreign to me. I am always making disastrous mistakes on the computer. It’s very frustrating when pressing the wrong button causes my writing to disappear from the screen and become unrecoverable. When my grandchildren tell me how to operate the computer, I quickly forget what they told me.

Using technology for everything cannot be turned off. New “improvements” are made every day and this trend will continue in the future.

My car is so computerized that it can do almost anything. Every day, I find some computerized feature of the car that I never knew existed. The voice on my GPS has become my friend. I frequently hear her say, “Recalculating,” especially when I am driving at night.  I often speak to her when I’m driving to ask for her advice. So far, she hasn’t responded to my queries.

The over-55 generation will be especially affected by all the new devices and we will be left in the dust as technology progresses. I suspect that most over-55 people feel the same way about technology that I do. Yet, some elderly people cannot only cope with technology but thrive on it. I envy those individuals, but I don’t really want to be one of them.

Civilization is moving closer to becoming robots. Artificial intelligence is here, with all of its pros and cons. It is difficult enough to explain regular intelligence and artificial intelligence will take us to new heights or depths.

Let’s try to preserve some of the benefits of living in a traditional world. Maybe our ancestors were not so dumb after all.