A few weeks ago, we had a problem with our internet service at the church office. Our building is located in a kind of “no man’s land” where we are limited to only one internet service provider – our phone company. We found it difficult to upload anything and our download speeds were barely, just barely above dial-up. I fully expected to hear the AOL voice declare, “You have mail.”
After enduring this for a while, I decided to take the bull by the horns and call our service provider. My phone was answered by a monotone computer-generated voice that presented me with a menu of options – none of which was helpful for me. I tried hitting “O” multiple times, but I remained in menu purgatory. I then proceeded to press a random series of numbers hoping that by confusing the computer-generated guard dog, I might be defaulted to a human being. No luck! I then begin to talk to the machine in the hopes that it might have mechanical ears that would hear me and lead me out of the frustrating maze. “I want to talk to person! I want to talk to a PERSON!! I want to TALK TO A PERSON!!! I WANT TO TALK TO A PERSON!!!!” My heart was pounding, my face was turning red, and I began to use my outdoor voice…still, the computer told me it didn’t understand and sent me back to the main menu. “Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do no pass ‘Go.’ Do not collect $200.”
I eventually did get to talk to a person. I gave in and pressed “1,” even though I didn’t need what option “1” offered. That put me on a button-pushing venture leading to a remarkably nice person informed me I hadn’t gotten to the right place. I already knew that! She then proceeded to send me to two other people, that last of which told me what basically amounted to “Sorry. You’re out of luck! Maybe things will get better in the future. Our company cares about our customers and we’re always finding ways to improved our service.” Admittedly, I was not impressed! But at least I got to talk to a human being!
Life can be full of frustrations. Even advanced machines aren’t a substitute for human communication. Siri, for instance, might give me an accurate answer to who won the Texas Rangers game last night or whether I’ll need an umbrella today, but “she” is a poor substitute for talking to a friend about my day.
Automation does not satisfy our need for communication. Look up from your mobile phone at the person sitting across from you at dinner or beside you in the doctor’s waiting room. Ask someone, “How are you?” and mean it. Listen to the heart behind the words being spoken. Talk about your hopes and dreams and listen when others share theirs. And when you finally get to a person after your sojourn through the valley of automated options, remember that he or she is a real person with feelings, and they were not responsible for the gauntlet you just endured.
There’s something within each of us that says (sometimes with frustration), “I want to talk to a person.” We are made for relationships – with God and with one another. When we try to live without those relationships, it will always be frustrating.