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Archive for January, 2013

In Which WestWorld No Longer Needs Robots

January 12th, 2013 No comments

For those of you who may not know, I’m working as a contractor doing phone support for xfinity, possibly the stupidest name ever invented.  Perhaps it’s the name that freaks me out, but the marketing guys outdid themselves finding a name that embodies fear and technology that screams – WE OWN YOUR SOUL.

And that’s just the employees!

During the Olympics, they incessantly ran a “This is your…” ad. The lulling, partially human voice brought memories of The Parallax View to mind. So, I put the two together.

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What do you hate most about calling any 800 number for a company? The script, right? The defacto robotics of the person on the other end. Having gone through it, the word “training” for such jobs doesn’t do the process justice. “Inculcation” or “programming” comes closer, but still doesn’t quite capture the bizarrely meta outcome of what corporations want to achieve with the processing of its employees.

First, an anecdote.

During one “team meeting”, the Quality Assurance-bot joined the call to take questions about our script. We spent five minutes talking about whether inserting the word “please” into the script constituted grounds for a violation. She didn’t feel comfortable making a judgment call about that but assured us that she’d escalate it and come back with the proper procedure.

But it got better. After that, she said that most of us weren’t being “empathetic” enough. That led to a discussion of the difference between “empathy” and “sympathy”. Apparently, when some drunken redneck mom takes time off from beating her children to scream about how she can’t “‘member mah wahless passwerd”, many of us weren’t treating her with the dignity she deserves. That conversation took about 15mins.

Not enough? Ok – try this: A co-worker got told that he needed to use the word “frustrating” at least once during each “customer interaction” or he would get a warning. Why? Because it made us  seem “more human”.

Of course, you could ditch the script all together and let your support-monkeys speak English. But that means losing control of “uniform customer experience”. You know, the thing that makes tech support such a joy to interact with.

Here’s the meta part and please forgive me if I come off sounding like Alex Jones.

What they want to do is strip employees of their human-ness, turning them into robots dependent on a script. Once that’s done, they tinker with the script to make their newly created robots sound human.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tripping right now.

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In Which “The Newsroom” Is 24 For The Intellectual Liberals

January 2nd, 2013 No comments

I’m a bad liberal. I admit it. Sometimes I put stuff in the trash that belongs in the recycle bin. I flick my cigarette (bad liberal) out the car window. I got sick of Keith Olbermann, no matter how much I agreed with him and I despise Laurence O’Donnell. I mean, despise.  The second Rachel Maddow ends, the TV is off, hopefully before he starts speaking.

Let me put this right up front. I’ve never seen The Newsroom and, even if I had HBO (which I don’t) I wouldn’t watch it. I’ve seen clips from it and it looks great. I love the cast. The writing is top notch. The problem is – it’s not real life. It is, like all TV, a dream world. It’s a world I’d love to live in, full of the proper mix of reason and passion where you win arguments with facts (“All presidents have used stimulus and you’ve never called them socialist”) and you’re not told “SHUT THE FUCK UP!! YOURA FAGOT. GO BACK TO NOTRH KOREA!!”

(Sidenote: I love the new North Korea focus. They can’t use Iran anymore because they actually realize that they wish the US transformed into a theocratic society.)

A scant 2 months after 9/11, Fox TV came out with the show 24.  Stop and think about that. TV shows just don’t create themselves overnight. What this implies is that pretty much the day after or even of 9/11, some one saw and opportunity to turn it into cash. Not just cash, but an electronic bully pulpit preaching that all Muslims wanted to kill us and that only the US could save the day. And do it all in 24 hours. This kind of propaganda is not unprecedented but it took 20 years for a show about wacky Nazis to get to TV after WWII. Did the propaganda campaign known as 24 work?

A few years ago, One News Now, a fake news site run by the American Family Association, asked its xtian readers if they thought torture was a viable option in the war on terror. These salt-of-the-earth, turn-the-other-cheek, that-which-you-do-to-the-least-of-these xtians responded with a deafening FUCK YEAH! Just how loud was the response? 89% said they had no problem with it. Bear in mind that after WWII, the US prosecuted Japanese soldiers for waterboarding Americans.

Even liberals ate up the whole “they hate freedom” bullshit that 24 pedaled. And you can’t really blame them. Most people wanted comfort and assurance that a once in lifetime event wouldn’t happen again. So much so, that we took off our unalienable rights with the Patriot Act and put them in the bin with our shoes at the airport. In the end, though, 24 served only to increase national paranoia and hits on the job site at the CIA and FBI.

You’re going to tell me The Newsroom and 24 can’t be compared. Getting all sweaty from running around diffusing bombs isn’t the same thing as getting all sweaty because you’re living on coffee and running downstairs to not get caught smoking. True. But at the concept level, it’s the same thing: Intrepid People Intrepidly Saving The World From The Enemy. In the case of 24, the enemy wore turbans, long beards and spoke a foreign language. In The Newsroom, the enemy wears suits, flag pins and speaks a foreign language – Teabaggese.

Wingnuts don’t have a problem with blood and violence. They love seeing people get the shit literally kicked out of them. Their default action is “punch”. Liberals don’t. We’d prefer our smack downs bloodless. We’d rather eviscerate with words (raises his hands) than violence. To put it in teabagger terms: Liberals think the motherfucking SHIT out of teabaggers – HOO-ah! The pen is mightier than sword, weak limbed thinkers are told, but smugness in the safety of your facts rarely protects you from getting stabbed. Paradoxically, reason tends to incite violence.

In dream world of  The Newsroom, that hermetic seal stays unbroken. Sure, danger will happen, but in the end everything works out. The danger, though, isn’t the lulling thoughts that every works out. The danger, or at least the reason I don’t watch it, comes from the knowledge that it takes a fictional character to speak the truth to power. Put another way, very few politicians want to speak the words spoken on that show. Even fewer want to act on them. And that’s a big problem – investing energy in a show that not only mirrors reality but outdoes it.

I’m not up for watching a show that leaves me saying, “Wow. If only someone had the guts to say that in real life.”