Digital Age

Sing That Fakey Bot Song, Bot Boy

I remember a time where old, crickety shops adorned the end of strip malls that housed a hundred a more electronic parts, some divided into sections. Some areas were composed of gently used electronics that were for sale, and another area that was exclusively for devices that needed repair. Most of the time, you were greeted by an old man that took your order, advised some counseling, and gave you an idea of cost as far as any repairs that needed to be done. In the middle of this interaction, he would make a genuine attempt to find out more about the customer as a way of establishing a long term business relationship. If all went well, your device would be repaired, and made a friend. You, the customer, brightened up the old man’s day. Not only did he rake in some cash, but he made a friend, and broke the monotony of what otherwise could have been a dull, prosaic kind of day.

That old man is now amiss. Gone are the days where you can take electronics to a repair shop, and get human to human contact. Gone are the old men who would wait behind the counter, yellow pad at the ready, and await to hear what is troubling the old clunky tv or vacuum cleaner. They have been replaced with unimaginative bot software from device manufacturers and developers that are bound by the same script no matter what kind of technological dilemma occurred:

  • Uninstall and do a fresh reinstall
  • Make sure you have the latest update/software
  • Disconnect from WiFi and reconnect
  • We hear you, and we understand your frustration
  • Please DM us your device info if you’re still experiencing issues.

There has been a lot of cool, high tech toys, gadgets, and apps popping up in recent years. I’ve learned that this holiday season, many wish lists contained smart home gadgets that reportedly make mundane tasks more tolerable. While these devices serve a purpose to make life easier and less mundane, they are proving to be more dubious than helpful. Reddit is cluttered with linked articles that highlight the manufacturer’s and developer’s dubious privacy jargon and customer complaints on many popular apps and devices. Now, these difficulties are left to unimaginative but skillfully conceived bots on their social media feeds, all ready to go with their pre-programmed responses to cast the same illusion of humanity that the “old man” provided back in the day.

This is a demonstration of the company’s indolence. Granted, there is undoubtedly a number of consumers who initialized their setups with haste and are quick to snap judgement toward any wrongdoing. However, in reading customer reviews, that many people can’t be wrong (unless they’re bots themselves- who can really tell?) when it comes to customer relations.

Not long ago, i wrote about my misgivings with iHeartRadio, and how they deploy some highly condescending error messages to cast the impression that your poor connection is to blame for the app’s inability to work properly on your device. Turned out they experienced an outage that was unbeknownst to its users, but this error wasn’t revealed until many hours after the initial fail. Since I had a paid membership, I found this type of negligence completely unacceptable. I have since cancelled my membership, and retreated to Spotify.

Au contraire. Spotify is playing the same exact game, but this time they are being intentionally malicious—they will disconnect your WiFi altogether.

I came across a thread on Twitter that was addressed to @SpotifyCares. I found it rather interesting:

The same ‘ol bot song, deployed by the developers of apps and devices.

Spotify’s responses match a highly similar pattern of all other companies whose products lay in the realm of technology. On Twitter alone, this area of “troubleshooting” is all too similar to the likes of ATT, Amazon, Google, et al; by way of tablets, mobile devices, voice assistants, smart speakers, video doorbells, and anything else that requires a WiFi connection. The more society shifts to a “smart” world where it requires a WiFi connection, it is more likely these devices will magically disconnect and these manufacturers will shift the blame due to an inadequate internet connection and speeds. And every time there’s an update, it makes the service even more corrupt. I don’t believe this to be coincidence— there’s something shady going on. While the internet is polluted with cacophonous articles that highlight security issues with apps and devices, I have yet come across any explanation why these companies resort to customer service bots preprogrammed with generic auto responses. Is this going to be the norm from this point forward? Where’s the nice, widowed old man just striving to keep his business afloat, and looking forward to greet the customer with a whimsical smile?

Nowadays, the masses couldn’t give a shit about that old man. The masses will naturally gravitate to anything that’s flashy, fun, and trendy. In reading the forums for tech gadgets, a large percentage of folks don’t even view these devices as a way of improving quality of life, but more like a hobby. As long as companies deem these consumers as “hobby enthusiasts” companies will cater to them accordingly. It has become prevalent in recent years that money is their main priority. So when something inadvertently disconnects from the internet, don’t go crying to Amazon. They got their money, they mined your data, and you helped fund Jeff Bezos’ next mansion.

And that’s where companies start their deceit. Knowing that they have these consumers right where they want them, as long as their products are bought, their job is done and let the bots take care of the dirty work. Some companies even have the gall to program emojis into their bot responses, to create the illusion of a real human working behind the desk, as if they’re answering every query with joyous anticipation.

Most alarmingly, I wonder about the humans that respond to the bots. More often than not, they are left feeling more frustrated than they did when they first opened their ticket. More and more consumers are turning to forums like Reddit, where a more thorough ( and sometimes quicker) troubleshooting responses will be given by experienced users as opposed to fighting a scripted bot. Any chance I get to leave an unflattering review on a service or product, a bot will typically respond to my inquiry. I always reply with ” nice try, bot.” They never reply back. It’s not in the script.

Additionally, there has been issues that has been lingering and unresolved since 2015, another discrepancy in the books for many tech manufacturers. For example, Sling TV, who is owned by Dish Network, has the consistent issue with loud commercials on their platform. Even though this problem first became known in 2015, their tech support proclaims it is a known issue and they are working “quickly ” to resolve it to this day. The reason Sling can get away with loud commmercials is because volume control is not regulated in the internet streaming realm. So while Sling doesn’t want to lose customers over loud commercials, outright lying through bot services just makes it ghastly negligent on their part. I, too, left Sling after one year.

The purpose of this post is to serve as a wake up call for humanity. We are witnessing the gradual decline of interpersonal and business relationships already, where self agendas remain to be a top notch priority. Not only do humans find it more appealing to mindlessly stare at a phone and click and text to their heart’s content, we also live in a fictitious world made up of manufactured news and outrage, so why stop with consumer products. Consumer products that are so cheaply made, they last just long enough to fulfill the required manufacturer ‘s one year warranty. By that time, the bots will be ready and willing to communicate the auto generated replies, and leaving consumers in an even bigger cloud of frustration than the one they arrived in. All of these elements are the prime ingredients for a devolving society. If someone doesn’t at least call out on these recipes for disaster, we will morph into communities that is built on suspicion, insecurities, dispassion. That is the recipe for a devolving society that will end up apathetic, and soulless.

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