In an age where technology is king, and we are slaves to the whims of a fickle, ever-changing, and sometimes unreliable sovereign, the name of the game is the new, the better, the smaller, and the faster and no one plays this game better than the mobile telephone and IT companies.
Prior to writing this article, I had been with Cingular Wireless, in all its various manifestations, for more than nine years. I've dealt with overbilling, under billing, weekend minutes, nighttime minutes, roll-over minutes, friends and family, text messaging, data messaging, multi-media messaging, network roaming, and international roaming. Donâ€™t even get me started on the billsâ€”theyâ€™re indecipherable.
Iâ€™ve come to realize that the technological crack pipe of our time is the mobile telephone. We are all addicted and we are allâ€”at least sometimesâ€”miserable addicts. To illustrate this point Iâ€™d like to relate a story of an experience I had with Cingular...
The story begins with our protagonist (yours truly) driving on a warm and smoggy LA freeway doing what many of my fellow Angelinos do while driving: talking on the mobile. The sun is fixed at 3pm and its heat radiates and reflects off the hot concrete as motorists jockey for position on the 101â€”in some instances sign/body language is used to communicate between vehicles. This day finds me calling the good people at Cingular:
â€œThank you for calling Cingular Wireless.â€ An artificially friendly womanâ€™s voice greets me, and then surprises me with her apparent multilingual talents by repeating the foregoing, but this time in Spanish, â€œGracias por llamar Cingular, para oÃr estas opciones en espaÃ±ol presionar nueve.â€ I hold the line for a moment, my Spanish language skills taunting me, ridiculing me, making me feel muy malo.
â€œPlease enter the mobile telephone number that you are calling about,â€ the voice commands, its tone more forceful this time, making me a bit nervous and uncomfortable. I start to punch in my number, taking split second breaks to look up and watch my car devour the road before me as I scream down the 101 towards the 405 interchange.
â€œYou enteredâ€ the voice repeats my mobile number one number at a time. A brief pause and then the voice inquires, â€œIs this correct?â€ in an almost disbelieving tone, which leads me to believe that it may not be. â€œIf it is,â€ the voice continues â€œpress â€˜1â€™... if not, press â€˜2.â€™â€ Sheâ€™s daring me nowâ€”I almost like it.
Now Iâ€™m getting a bit irritated, but still, Iâ€™m willing to cooperate. I press â€œ1â€ on my mobile and there is the silence. I begin to worry. â€œThank you...â€ the voice nonchalantly reemerges from the void, and I am relieved that I didnâ€™t lose the signalâ€”Iâ€™m beginning to fall in love with this dirty digital tease. â€œPlease enter the last four digits of the primary account-holders social security number.â€
Oh God, Iâ€™m entering the 405, and I know Cingularâ€™s corporate conspiracy has set a drop zone at the top of the hill. Again, I comply, nervously entering in the numbers like a 13 year-old dialing a girlâ€™s number for the first time.
â€œThank you,â€ the voice says cheerfully. She knows what sheâ€™s about to do, that bitch.
â€œTo better help us direct your call...â€
â€œMother F***er!â€ I think, â€œWhy are you doing this to me? Why canâ€™t you be easy? Why canâ€™t you just let me hit zero?!?â€ I plead.
â€œPlease select from the following menu of options...â€ The voice continues and there is a momentary pause as the recording inhales the life from my eternal soul in preparation for: â€œFor billing, press â€˜1,â€™ for technical support, press â€˜2,â€™ for questions regarding Cingularâ€™s partnership with the Special Olympics, press â€˜3,â€™ for questions regarding adding a line, press â€˜4,â€™ for questions about the â€˜g-spotâ€™ press â€˜5,â€™ for information on who killed Kennedy, press â€˜6â€™...â€
At this point Iâ€™m beginning to lose concentration, Iâ€™m staring at the road and pondering the question every driver on an L.A. freeway asks at one point or another, â€œWhen will they make â€˜flying cars?â€™â€ I ask playfully. Iâ€™m drifting now, into the â€œWorld of Tomorrow.â€ â€œWouldnâ€™t it be great if we had â€˜Transportersâ€™ like they have on â€˜Star Trek?â€™â€ I ask myself in a semi-schizophrenic internal dialogue. â€œI would live in Vermont and just beam into work in LA,â€ I fantasize.
Suddenly Iâ€™m sucked back into reality. â€œ...For questions regarding adding data services, press â€˜7,â€™ to repeat this menu, press â€˜8.â€™â€
â€œHoly Mother Mary!â€ I scream.
â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ the voice says, â€œI didnâ€™t get that. Please repeat your response.â€ The voice says in a friendly way, like sheâ€™s talking to a child with a combination of a lisp and a stutter.
â€œMy God,â€ I think, â€œthey have voice recognition on the menu now.â€ Iâ€™m almost at the top of the hill now, and... â€œBoop, boop, boop.â€ The line goes dead, and my call screen displays the date, time, and â€œCingular,â€ obscured slightly by sweat mixed with the dirt from the screen. The call is gone, ripped from my cellular grasp, and flung back into the abyss to which all dropped calls are damned.
Iâ€™m moving downhill now, and I know that the road is signal packed from here on out. I have at least an hour of signal coverage on the 405 towards my destination in Orange County. Thatâ€™s right, Iâ€™m going to the O.C.
I press send twice on my phone again, and again, sheâ€™s there. Her voice indicates that sheâ€™s not willing to admit that anything has happened between us, or worse, that she doesnâ€™t remember me. I swallow my pride and play her game, I dance and jump through hoops for the next ten minutes. I donâ€™t care anymore, I have no prideâ€”all that matters is her. Iâ€™m her bitch.
â€œ...to repeat this menu, press â€˜8,â€™â€
â€œMethuselah save us all!â€ Did I miss the proper option again, and then she gives me what I want, â€œfor all other questions or to speak with a customer service representative, press â€˜9,â€™ or remain on the line.â€ At that moment I glimpse the face of God, and Shiva is smiling...
â€œPlease wait while your call is connected...â€ the voice says. I hear a couple of rings, then the voiceâ€™s crazy, but hot!, sister picks up.
â€œThank you for calling Cingular Wirelessâ€™ customer assistance center,â€ she says in a sweet crystalline semi-human voice, â€œwe are currently experiencing higher than usual call volume...â€ God is no longer smiling. â€œYour estimated wait time isâ€ she says in a direly serious tone and then pauses, â€œthirty... five... minutes.â€
I feel my heart beating in my ears as the mobile phone heats my brain to boiling, the sweat streaming down the crevice between my face and the call screen. I can feel the tumor welcoming life as it stakes a claim on that prime real estate that is the left-hemisphere of my brain. I spend the next 45-minutes listening to all the new features that Cingular has to offer, and how they will make me, my family, and my friends happy... again, and again. God is dead to me now, and I ponder the possibility that we are all, in fact, batteries for some master race of insect robots ala the Matrix. (See my profile for my favorite films... oh yeah, itâ€™s there.)
â€œThank you for calling Cingular Wireless,â€ a cheerful voice squeaks out. â€œMy name is Tiffany.â€
I snap to attention and, like a man starved for human contact, I begin yelling in excitement, â€œHello! Hello, can you hear me?â€ I ask desperately.
â€œYes, sir. How may I help you?â€ Tiffany says as I struggle to remember why I called them (the left side of my face is numb now).
â€œMaybe this cellular stuff is dangerous.â€ I think, as I feel brain cells commit suicide.
â€œHi Tiffany.â€ I say. â€œFirst off, I want compliment Cingular on the stellar customer service you people are providing to your customers.â€ I say sarcastically.
â€œThank you sir,â€ she replies. The sarcasm is lost on her, or, more likely, sheâ€™s pushing me.
â€œBiggest mobile telephone company in the world, and you canâ€™t hire more than 20 customer service reps?â€ I mumble, afraid sheâ€™ll hear me and screw me with the â€œaccidental hang up.â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry sir, youâ€™re breaking up.â€ She says, feigning a concern that she canâ€™t hear my every word.
â€œTiffany, Iâ€™m calling because my phone keeps freezing up.â€ I say quickly.
â€œWho am I speaking with?â€ She asks in a tone Iâ€™m not sure I care for.
â€œReza,â€ I say.
â€œHello Reza,â€ she says, â€œcan I please have the last four digits of your social security number?â€ She asks.
â€œYou know I already entered that.â€ I say in an incredulous tone, â€œWhy does Cingular make me enter it during the recording only to have me repeat it later on?â€ I ask.
â€œItâ€™s for security purposes,â€ she replies in a matter-of-fact toneâ€”which doesnâ€™t really answer the question at allâ€”daring me to continue this dialogue.
â€œOkay,â€ I say, and, recognizing that I am as impotent as a paraplegic in a Viagra factory, I recite the last four of my social, obediently.
â€œOkay, sir, you have a data device.â€
â€œYes I do.â€ I say, not realizing why sheâ€™s telling me this information.
â€œYou have to call Cingularâ€™s data device line.â€ She says, as each word penetrates and violates every orifice of my being.
â€œWhat?â€ I say, not wanting to believe what sheâ€™s telling me.
â€œYou have to call Cingularâ€™s data device line.â€ She repeats without any effort.
I sigh deeply, resigned to this fate. â€œOkay, can you please connect me?â€
â€œNo sir, Iâ€™m sorry, theyâ€™re on a different network. I can give you their number though.â€
I pause only to take note of the fact that I have nothing to write with and to contemplate the irony of a telecommunications provider without a fully functioning internal telephone network. â€œOkay, give me the number,â€ I say, as I prepare my mind for the type of flash memorization normally marked by repetition of the subject matter to be memorized; a task made all the more difficult by the recent loss of 12% of my brain cells.
â€œThe number is,â€ she speaks each number slowly and then asks me if there is anything else she can help me with.
Repeating the number to her, I say no and try to thank her in the most sincerely kind voice for her help. I feel bad for being obnoxious, but Iâ€™m tired of the crappy customer service. Iâ€™ve been with them for nine years, but they treat me like theyâ€™re doing me a favor every time I call for help with a problem theyâ€™ve createdâ€”nine years of dropped calls and longer than usual wait times have conditioned me for confrontations with the good people working for Cingular all over the country.
I dial the data device number and fall back into the vortex of menus and social security numbers that is typical of almost any telephonic customer service line in our society.
I realize as I hold for yet another â€œcustomer service representativeâ€ that I am not valuable to Cingular, and they have done everything to remind of that fact. They donâ€™t provide coverage in places you would expect, like, for instance, the freeway in the middle of Los Angeles. There is no attempt to even come close to providing good, or better yet, excellent customer service, that everyone deserves. Most large companies only want to do just enough to keep our business. The days of â€œthe customer is always rightâ€ and â€œbending over backwardsâ€ are, for the most part, gone.
As I finish my call with the good people in data devices, I watch the sun slowly set over the 405. I was dealing with Cingular for almost two hours. I whisper a silent prayer to God that if the Apocalypse ever comes, that mobile telephone company managers and executives will be cast into the seventh circle of hell.
Exhausted, I bow to my king, kiss his hand, and break out the lubrication, because with the average lifespan topping 70 now, thereâ€™s going to be a lot of friction... the least we can do is use a little Astroglide.