In the age of the Internet, one should never, at least theoretically, have to rely upon that ancient technological device, the land line, again. Everything in the world, and some things not of this world, for instance, the voice of Siri — the digital polymath who will tell you how to conduct a burial of your recently murdered family member; where to find a divorce attorney or a hot fudge sundae in Bangalore; and will demur politely if asked questions of a more delicate sort, such as, “How do I tell my mother-in-law that she has halitosis?” — is available online, as distant as the click of a mouse or the brush of a fingertip against the glass screen.
There are exceptions.
I needed to contact a federal government agency. I went to its web site, thinking the information would be readily available. .
This was not the case.
After 30 minutes of fruitless meandering, I called the information number.
I got a recorded voice, which announced what month it was. I knew it was May, but was unaware that May was devoted to a particular condition: hepatitis. Maybe I should design a greeting card. Then, the recorded voice of an operator stated the business hours of the governmental entity. I was well within them. I had not confused the time zones. After listening to six potential selections, I chose the one which would, optimally, connect me to a live operator. Indeed, I got one. Her name was Lisa. After referring me to the legal department, and providing me with the number, she asked if there was anything else she could help me with. I asked again for the documents I sought. She reiterated that I would need to contact the office of the entity’s general counsel. Oh, well.
So, I called that number. This connected me with another recorded voice, who cautioned me about the business hours of the general counsel’s office. It was still National Hepatitis Month. This time, there were four options. I could reach a member of the department by last name, divided into three segments of the alphabet; or by pressing “8,” I could get more general information. Hopefully, I pressed “8.” It returned me to the original menu, which offered the opportunity to reach its employees if only I knew their last names. I pressed 8 again. I got the same message for the third time.
So I pressed “1.” I listened to the names on offer, speculating about which of them might actually be able to help me. It was impossible to tell, so I selected one at random. I got his voice mail, which happily, invited me to either leave a message or press zero, where, I imagined, I would be connected to a live human. Think again.
This is the federal government, I remembered. It couldn’t possibly afford to pay an operator, being trillions of dollars in debt. I forgave it.
I pressed zero. I heard, “That is an incorrect selection.” I pressed zero again. This time, the menu advisor indicated that I should make a U-turn as soon as possible and disconnected me without my express consent.
I called back. This time, I got a live person, after four rounds of choices. She gave me a number to call, and remonstrated that this was certainly the way to get the materials I needed. I dialed.
No human voice answered the call. I was invited to choose a language in which to hear instructions. Then there were three selections, none of which fit the precise bill. The fourth alternative was to leave a message in the general mailbox. I began leaving a message when I was abruptly confronted by a dial tone. When I called back, the line was busy.
I believe that the Pony Express for Washington, D.C. will be leaving shortly. I have also enlisted the aid of a carrier pigeon.
I believe I may also have hepatitis.
Amy F. Goodusky, a former paralegal, rock ‘n’ roll singer and horseback riding instructor, is of counsel at O’Brien, Tanski & Young in Hartford.