I started the other day by trying to sign into the California Department of Health’s website to get a QR code to show I had been vaccinated, and ended the day in tears. I won’t torture you with a blow-by-blow account of what happened in between, other than to say that it included screaming and crying. And I will cop to the fact that I told a human customer service person to go fuck herself. I’m not proud of this, but to be fair it was clear that she had turned into a robot herself, and this upsets me.
I knew the customer service person made the full transformation into robot, because I asked her a simple question, and she answered an entirely different question. I asked the simple question again, and she again answered the other question, which clearly was on a script. When I started to raise my voice and explained that she wasn’t actually listening to the very simple question that was not in fact the question she was answering, she told me that if I didn’t like the answer to the question, I should call a different agency, robot-style.
There was no combination of words available to get this human to understand. I tried. I used lots of different words in different ways, to no avail. She was apparently a living, breathing human with a squishy brain full of synapses, but I was still talking to a machine. But perhaps it’s not her fault that she is now a glitchy algorithm. We’ve interacted so deeply with machines over the last twenty years (at least), it seems inevitable that we would take on machine-like qualities ourselves.
In 2008, my then-boyfriend and I were driving to Santa Monica to see Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings at teeny tiny venue — if you know their music, you know this plan a had a decidedly non-robot vibe. Even though I had grown up in Los Angeles, and knew perfectly well how to get to Santa Monica, we decided to use one of those newfangled GPS thingies, the Tom Tom. As we coasted into the parking lot, the soothing robot-lady-voice informed us that we had reached our destination, and we both said “thank you” to her in unison. And by “her” I mean the Tom Tom machine.
We both said thank you to a machine. At the time, we looked at each other and laughed. How silly. But thirteen years later…