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Jewish World Review March 22, 2001 / 27 Adar, 5761

Angela P. Trafford

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Consumer Reports

Life's operators -- MUCH of the frustration in today's world is due to the lack of humanity; we've simply pared down our responses to the point where we are becoming like the machines that now answer the telephones and the telemarketing outfits that invade our privacy like kamikaze war pilots on an insane, invasive mission doomed to failure.

I wonder if anyone ever makes a sale. Certainly not to me. But they've turned us into liars who are never home because we are too polite to tell them to get lost, remembering the bad old days when we as well were forced to take jobs as telemarketers to put ourselves through college or what have you.

I've tried to be courteous to the voice mail machines, but my sons have overheard me losing my patience with the information robot and treating her with a surly disrespect that makes no rational sense whatsoever; I'm just taking it out on her that she's a machine.

I miss the real information operator and puzzle over what has become of her. Even stranger, no one has commented on the fact that a human being no longer answers when we dial for information.

"Naples, Florida!" I found myself shouting at the robotic voice, while my son peered curiously at me with an amused half smile on his face. I was hoping he didn't hear what I whispered under my breath. "Where's the real operator? Where is she!"

"Mom." He said, "You're being rude."

"I've had it with these mechanical voices," I replied. And, really, I am somewhat ashamed to be talking to a machine. It's embarrassing."

"But if you're not nice to them, they won't give you the information," he advised.

That was true enough, I suppose. But I never found out; I slammed down the receiver.

Actually, I remember when the real information operator disappeared and this mechanical counterfeit took her place. I was a bit dismayed; I thought she'd be back when business regained its senses. I had no idea I'd miss her so much ... and for so long. Yet no one ever talks about her or seems concerned about her disappearance anymore.

This winter I bought my sons toys for the holidays that included a remote control plane, a car speed racing set, gliders and kites and musical instruments. There was a point to it all; a steering away from television, video and computer games and back to hands-on human fun and creativity. Though my sons are young adults, the toys were a huge hit.

We, too, can learn again to use a phone book and let our fingers do the walking, and so avoid the abandonment created by occasions such as the disappearance of the human information operator.

Rumor has it, I hear, that she now walks along the coast, searching for the perfect wave. I like to think of her sitting, in total peace, sipping an authentic lemonade made with real honest-to-goodness lemons. She is, I hope, reading a really good book, a classic.

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