OPINION COLUMNS

The telephone menu and a ‘tweaked’ driving story

By Gerre Joiner | Published Saturday, January 10, 2015
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I received a phone call from a friend today. While we talked, he voiced frustration about his experience earlier in the day when he was trying to do some business and was extremely frustrated.

Well, he was a little mad.

He was pretty mad.

Gerre Joiner

Gerre Joiner

He was really mad … at the telephone. He was asked (by a recorded voice) to wade through a menu, sometimes pressing phone buttons on his end of the “virtual conversation” and sometimes being asked for a verbal response.

Some of my coffee-drinking friends are old enough to remember in 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell got into a big legal struggle with many others who claimed to be the originators, prevailed, and was awarded the first patent for his little talking machine.

I’m kidding about my guys remembering something in 1876. They’re old enough to have been there, but not sharp enough to remember.

But some of them really do remember the telephone on the wall … with the “crank” on the side and the earpiece cradled in the little hook. Lots of us have lived through the rotary dial phone era, the touch-tone phone era, the bag phones, the mobile phones and are now living in the awesome cell phone era.

Some of my friends are a little testy about calling them “smart” phones for some reason.

We are blessed with technology in ways that even the most visionary among us couldn’t have predicted. I was seated in a hospital waiting room recently when one of my friends was doing business on his cell phone with a client in a South American country. Another of my friends was in contact with his law office by way of his cell phone.

I saw pictures of grandchildren on cell phones. I made a call and texted on my cell phone while I was there. Our “today” world is wonderful and complex. Embracing the technology offered by our “today” world is both wonderful and complex.

My appeal is this: I wish someone would design a telephone system with us old folks in mind. Make the telephone menu “senior adult user-friendly.” Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

For example:

  • The digital operator (the recording) could answer by saying, “If you are over the age of 60 and would like to talk to a real person, please say ‘operator’ now.”
  • We senior folks might be instructed early on to consider hanging up and making a trip to the potty. The subtle message here is this: “You’d better do your business at home right now. It’s liable to be a while before you’re able to do business with us on this phone.”
  • We might be instructed to hang up, take a blood pressure pill, and then call back.
  • We might be asked to press 1 if we’d like to hear the menu read in West Texas English.
  • We might be informed that the call might be recorded. (This might keep some folks from cussing on the phone. Not sure.)
  • How would it be if the recorded voice asked, “Are you sure you want to go to all this trouble? Why don’t you just hang up and take a nap?”
  • What would it be like if, after about 20 minutes of “menu-wading,” a familiar voice (the first recorded voice with which you “talked”) asked, “Just making sure … Do you still remember why you called us in the first place?”

On a lighter note:

An Amarillo friend recently told me a funny story. He was working in his yard when he suddenly heard a car crashing through his hedge, coming to rest in his yard.

He went over, retrieved a quite elderly little lady driver from the car, walked her over to a patio chair and asked, “Are you OK? You look like you’re pretty old to be driving a car.”

The sparky little lady said, “Yes, I’m 97 years old. That’s old enough to no longer need a driver’s license.”

My friend quizzed her, “You don’t need a driver’s license anymore?”

The lady said, “That’s right. Last time I went to the doctor, he asked me for my driver’s license. I gave it to him. He took a pair of scissors, cut my license into pieces, threw it into the trash and told me, ‘You won’t be needing this any more.’

“So I thanked him and left.”

I might have tweaked that last story just a little.

Gerre Joiner is a semi-retired church musician and has lived in Decatur since 1999.

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