all this tomfoolery

“Gardiner and Theobald.”
“Yes, hello, may I speak to Mary Smith please?”

“Sure! May I tell her who is calling?”
“Yes, it’s John Doe. How are you doing today?”

“Oh, I’m doing fine. How are you? Let me see if I can reach her for you.”
“That would be so great. Thank you so much.”

“John, I’m not able to reach her at her desk, would you like her voicemail?”
“You know what? I’ll just send her an email. I guess I really just miss talkin’ to people, you know? Thank you so much. Have a great day!”

The conversation happened at 10:09 am and I thought about it until I left the office. I don’t know who John Doe is (and that’s obviously not his name) and I don’t know why he needed to talk to Mary Smith (also not her name) at my office and I definitely don’t know why he told me (the unnamed receptionist screening calls all day like a boss) about his desire for human connection.

I tried to answer calls a little differently the rest of the day, more like a human and less like a robot. Sure, I already have my favorites. There’s the guy who calls from NBC who has the kindest voice and the absolute best lilt to his phone pleasantries. Then there’s the guy on the 15th floor with the exaggerated English accent that rolls out into a musical melody. But, most of the calls I answer during the day make both of us sound like robots. We go through the call/response like office liturgy, an ode to the places we work in order to spend time in the places we don’t.

But, it’s kind of nice to be a robot. I mean, I can triple multi-task now – answer phones, redirect calls, create fedex shipments, all while carrying on a halting conversation with my coworker about the benefits of oregano oil. I’m not sure if I can do any of those multi-tasks super well if I do them all at once, but that’s where the robot benefits come in: things get done.

Anyway, John Doe’s phone call this morning really rattled me up. Just yesterday, I was talking to my coworker (in one of those halting conversation beneath the mounds of multi-tasks) about how incredible it is to have language – letters and words and symbols that smash together into phrases and sentences that explain the reality we walk inside everyday.

What is more incredible to me, today at least, is that we have an emotional attachment to that language. We want to speak and be understood, to listen and to comprehend. And all this tomfoolery with email and text messages and electronic robottery makes us feel like we’re missing something pretty elemental. Sure, we might lose some efficiency, but I’m not sure what we gain is “worth it” in the long run.

Maybe it is and maybe this is just another rant against technology. But I get you, John Doe. I like to hide behind typed words for efficiency’s sake and for anonymity and for the protection of it, but sometimes I just really miss talking to people.

I’m going to try to do that more, so thanks for the inspiration, caller-I-will-never-meet. I am literally off to (my friend’s) Grandmother’s house in the country tonight, where the old-fashioned kind of communication is going to make a lot of sense. Maybe I’ll pick up a few pointers the city has forgotten.

things that remind us the world is not completely in order

I attended a training at Google yesterday on 8th Avenue. A friendly someone escorted us past the motion sensitive entrance gates at security and down the hallway to the elevator, where we went up to the 10th floor. The building bustled with activity, but it didn’t feel like the working gears of the world’s biggest search engine. It just felt like an office building with interesting interior.

The training was a crash course in Google Apps for non-profits, so the little, charitable guys can make good use of the technology the big guys are using to maximize profits and percentages and growth. There were just a handful of us, maybe 20, spread out in the giant auditorium space on the engineering floor. Our questions revealed few of us to be tech-savvy and all of us to be interested in what Google offers to non-profit organizations for free.

The presenter spoke over and in between some pipe banging and construction that sounded like it was happening in the next room. And then the videos in her presentation would not play… and then she had to open up the presentation in another format, and a few slides later the same issue happened again, and then that ridiculous countdown message popped up in the lower right-hand corner telling her to reboot or else.

I felt horrible because I have stood in the same place, in front of students or families or colleagues, with a technology-dependent presentation. Being from non-profits and familiar with these kinds of re-routing scenarios, several attendees gave suggestions and computer advice to the woman from the Ad Sales Department at Google. She was gracious and we were gracious and we all got through the glitches with a fine understanding of what the Google Suite could offer our non-profit.

The irony of technology glitches inside Google is somehow comforting. Technology doesn’t work perfectly all the time for anybody, it doesn’t matter who you are. And people are people, in big buildings and little buildings, skyscrapers and crowded flats the world over.

Life’s got glitches and no one is exempt.

I guess I just feel a solidarity in the struggle. The little struggles, like technology glitche,s and the bigger existential struggles, like systemic glitches in humanity. We spend a lot of time getting rid of glitches, minimizing the struggle and minimizing discomfort but it never seems to be completely resolved. We can never get clean away from those things that remind us that this world is not completely in order.

I’ve probably leaped too far this morning, but I had to wrap this up before work and I leave in 3 minutes.