Dependence on computers and AI dumbs us down

Picture of Frederick Dodson

Frederick Dodson

I moved back to the U.S. in 2021. I quickly noticed that most service staff (plumbers, waiters, handymen, shop clerks) go through narrowly prescribed sequences that allows little fine-tuning to individual preference, flexibility or even human warmth.
In the country I lived in before (NZ) I called a plumber. He came by my house, fixed the problem, collected cash and left. Simple, right?
Yesterday I called a plumber where I live now (US). He wouldn’t make an appointment without taking down all my data. “What’s a good email address for ya?”, “What’s a good phone number for ya?” “What’s the service address? What’s the billing address?” “You can save money by getting a plumbing subscription. We’ll come out every half year and make sure everything is in working order”. “No Thanks”.
After scheduling an appointment, I received two automated emails and two text messages confirming my appointment and asking me to text back to confirm. Hadn’t I just been on the phone with the person making an appointment? Why do I have to re-confirm it a few minutes later? Answer: AI automation.
I’d been told I’d receive a text message half an hour before the plumber arrives. At 2:00 pm I received that text message. But it was automated. I put aside all other works, expecting the plumber. He didn’t arrive. At 4:00 I received a phone call but missed it. It was the plumber wanting me to again CONFIRM that I’m home because he’s “half an hour out”. Hadn’t I already confirmed that I wanted a plumber three times before?
Because I missed that call, the AI in their system automatically put my plumbing service on hold. AI is cold and stupid, it doesn’t care for spontaneity. I called the plumbing company and had to reconfirm.
The plumber arrived at 5 pm. He didn’t look at me because his eyes were fixed on an ipad. Instead of getting to the Business of FIXING the issue, he was typing into his ipad. “Can I confirm your email address? Can I confirm your phone number? Can I confirm your address?” Then he proceeded to go through a long list of questions which he had to answer beforer “the system” would let him progress. “When was this building built?” “How many bathrooms are there?” “Have you had leaks in the past?” and about ten other questions. Finally at 5:30 pm he was looking at the problem – a minor leak that I hadn’t been able to fix. But did he then fix it? No, of course not. He began staring into his ipad again, for extended periods of time.
How much I miss the days when we had plumbers without ipads. I asked him if there’s a problem. “I’m waiting for it to draw up an estimate”. – “Can’t you give me an estimate?” – “No, the system calculates it”. He then needed my wifi password because he had no reception. After I got the estimate, he required me to sign several disclaimers and waivers into his ipad (for nothing more than a minor leak).
THEN, at 6 pm, only four hours later than scheduled, he finally fixed the problem. I was surprised he didn’t need to ask an AI program how to fix it.
Needless to say I needed to sign his ipad confirming a long list of things I had no way of verifying – that pipes, walves and hoses were now working, etc. He then again, suggested I get a subscription for them to come out on a regular basis and check my plumbing.
A subscription to a plumber! I laugh out loud as I write it.
After the visit I received the usual email spam. The questionaire on how their “service” was and the newsletters – the plumbing company sent me one every day. Hmmm….because I wanted a minor leak fixed, it must mean I’m interested in my daily read on plumbing techniques, tools and equipment?
A customer wants only one thing: For something to get FIXED asap. Any company that understands this, will succeed much more easily and rapidly.
A week before I had gone through the same sequence with a handyman. And a week before that, I experienced the precisely same sequence with a painter. His eyes were fixed on an ipad as he went through a pre-defined sequence and automations that made the whole thing take much longer than it needed to. Why were all these different companies following the exactly same sequences and even using the same vocabulary?
The rigid adherence to “the system” and “the AI” doesn’t allow for the service-person’s own input, method or creative thought. Maybe the plumber wanted to make his own estimate of price. Maybe he didn’t want to try to upsell me. Maybe he didn’t require all of my personal data before fixing a leak. Maybe he would have trusted that I’m home, without needing that fourth confirmation.
But “the system” won’t allow for that. Before payment could be made, all items on the screen needed to be checked off. Why do people voluntarily enslave themselves to rigid systems?
Because then they don’t have to think for themselves?
In the country I lived in before (NZ) I called a plumber. He
1. came by my house,
2. fixed the problem,
3. collected cash and left.
How wonderful. That’s friendly to both the customer and the service-person.
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