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Number, please? Not from these phones

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Column by Jim Clark

When I was a kid, and I wanted to make a telephone call, I would pick up the receiver and immediately hear a voice say, “Number please.”
She (it was always a she) took the number and made the call for you.
Then eventually we progressed to a phone with a circular dial on it, and you could dial the number directly without speaking to anyone.
I do know that New Jersey, where I lived, was the first location to be assigned an area code. Area codes, and subsequently dialing 1, virtually eliminated the operator.
But you could still call an operator by dialing 0 or, eventually, pushing the 0 button on what we called push-button phones.
Last week, I was trying to call a business phone that started with a toll-free area code of 888. I kept getting two results: Either it would ring forever, or it would ring once and I would get that awful tone and a message that “All circuits are busy.” To me, this made no sense.
Finally, I reverted to my old days and pushed 0 to get an operator. I then got a lesson on how things had changed.
I immediately got a recorded voice telling me to press 1 to make a call or some other thing, or press 2 for the business office and things like that. So I pressed 1.
Then I got one of my least favorite messages, press 1 for English, and a voice speaking in Spanish where I picked up the words “espanol” and “dos,” which from my old high school classes I knew meant Spanish and two.
So I pressed 1 and then got another message to press 1 for this and that, and press 2 for something else, etc. I can’t remember what I pressed, but I got another menu. At some point I had a choice to troubleshoot my problem automatically, but I bypassed that and eventually was told to push 0.
When a woman answered, I have to admit I was a little perturbed and said, “Are you human?” She said she was, so I told her my original problem. She immediately said, “Oh, I have to give you another number to call.”
And so it started all over again. Finally, I got a human, and she said she would try the number for me. She couldn’t get through, either, so I asked her if she would check the line. She said no, she couldn’t do that, and I should call “repair” and tell them the problem.
Remember, all this started because I simply pushed 0 and wanted to talk to an operator.
At that point, I just gave up, and by the next morning the problem resolved itself.
This, though, is an example of how automated our lives have become. The personal touch is long gone, especially at major firms … like the phone company.
In an old movie, “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” Bing Crosby played a priest named Father O’Malley. He used to tell people jokingly when they were in trouble to dial 0 for O’Malley.
If they dialed 0 today, it would be a miracle if they got Father O’Malley. It’s almost a miracle when they get to talk to an operator.

Jim Clark is the editor of the South Marion Citizen.