I just got back from a large orange home store where I spend way too much money. Today I had a not-so-funny experience that I am sure is becoming more common every day. I received the answer: “I’m sorry Sir, I cannot Help You.” If there was a good reason for this, I would not feel so bad. Is it ineptitude, or apathy when people say they cannot help you? I am not sure it really matters – unable and unwilling add up to the same thing in the end. They were minions within a bureaucracy and they could not get past their own system.
Makes me think of Hal, the computer from the movie 2001 Space Odyssey. When the movie was released in 1968, 2001 was a date unimaginably in the future. Hal is the evil computer who becomes larger than life because he is the platform which controls what works and what doesn’t. No human being can find a way past him because they have become cogs in the system they have created. Artificial intelligence anybody?
The chirpy response I got from the people I dealt with today was remarkably consistent. They looked positively ebullient to not have to help me. When artificial intelligence eventually takes over, such people will step out of the way with sanguine apathy, and I have a feeling that artificial customer service will be only slightly less annoying than the real thing.
I had a simple dilemma. I wanted to buy a piece of plywood that was too large for my vehicle. The piece of plywood was one thing on my to-do list because I had to get rid of a pile of flooring I had torn out, and I wanted to lay it down and protect my van from the debris. The problem came because I needed the piece of plywood cut. Now the big orange box store usually does this, but today their panel saw was down. I waited way too long for a young guy to show up who cheerily informed me that the saw was broken and he could not cut the plywood. That’s fine, I said, don’t you have a skill saw or something and I can just rip sixteen inches off the end? He said “I’m sorry sir, we cannot allow you to do that in case you hurt yourself, and we cannot do it for you”.
I went to the tool department, hoping to find someone with white hair who might be a little more sane. He told me that the panel saw was “for display purpose only”. This store has tools as far as the eye can see, but none of those tools could trim my sheet of of plywood. This might be the very definition of a solution looking for a problem. End result; I had to return the piece of wood because the big orange box store could not find a way to cut it.
I scanned the virtual sea of self-check-out aisles staring me in the face, certain only that people who might be willing to help, are getting harder to find. The girl standing on the side policing the self-check out, was filing her nails and looking bored, no doubt looking forward to a bit of i-phone time at home. Artificial intelligence is the inevitable end result of a larger malaise which seems to have rendered people distracted and disengaged. They don’t care to be useful and I think they may have got their wish in the end.
I expressed my consternation to the girl at the return desk, that in a store that sells tools, a store that is full of saws, no one can cut a piece of wood, they would rather lose the sale. She looked at me with a blank expression and said sweetly, “Sir, I am sorry that you feel that way”. I think her point was, that how I felt about customer service was also my own problem.
By way of comment, part of me wonders if there has been an alien abduction and human beings have been replaced with androids intent on bringing the planet to its knees. Another part of me wonders about the idea of the Apocalypse. No one need worry about the world ending. I am inclined to think the Apocalypse has already arrived but no one noticed.
In the end, I am a human being, and my response was a human one. We may find ourselves in need of human beings one day, and they seem to be increasingly in short supply. Being human - it’s a good thing to remember. I have just one thing to say to all of these people. Do any of you need something? Just ask me. I would be positively thrilled to help. Really.