Virtue & Mischief: In praise of humans


Of all the things I pause to give thanks for, “humanity” is not typically on the list. Specific humans, sure. Wife, children, parents, sisters, nieces, nephews, in-laws, more extended family members, friends. But humans in general? Almost never. Turns out, I’ve been taking y’all for granted.

Technology is – or can be – fantastic. It can allow me to do things that were quite literally unimaginable to me when I was a boy. Consider: I was amazed by color television sets, garage doors that opened with the click of a button, blow dryers, and the advent of the electric typewriter! (And VCR’s, microwave ovens, events that came over our TV screens “live, via satellite,” and on and on). The emergence of the personal computer, as well as its rapid advances and the developments in automation and telecommunications, has left my poor brain and limited vision in the dust.

Still, for all the advantages these advances have wrought I am often reminded how much I crave and adore the “human touch,” so to speak. How often have I encountered some problem with a commercial or governmental enterprise of some sort (credit card company, billing agency, insurance conglomerate, my employer, the United States Department of State, etc.)? And, in my efforts to solve/clarify/chop heads, how frequently have I thereupon collided with a robotic voice spouting some variation of the following script: “Thank you for calling the Moneygrubbing Corporation! Your call is very important to us. Your call may be monitored for quality control purposes. In the interest of efficiency, please choose from the following menu items or visit us at Press 1 if you desire to upgrade your services to the ‘Platinum’ level. Press 2 if you desire to upgrade your services to the ‘Gold’ level. Press 3 if you desire to upgrade your services to the ‘Silver’ level. Press 4 if you need assistance finding facilities where we can suck your blood on a weekly basis, interest-free. Press 5 if you’re a cheap-skate and don’t want to pay us more for our unnecessary and soul-depleting product, or simply stay on the line so a customer service representative can further confuse and frustrate you, in all likelihood using a volume level and/or thick accent prompting you to repeatedly query, ‘Huh? I’m sorry. I didn’t understand what you said. Could you please say that again, slowly and clearly?’ Press 6 to have this menu of options repeated, you dim-wit.”

The older I get (i.e., the worse my hearing becomes and the more my brain gradually turns to mush), the greater I yearn for a human to talk to when such situations arise. I covet a person to help me navigate effectively the warren of problems and possible solutions my consumer-related adventures take me on. A few weeks ago, for instance, I ordered online a sweatshirt Luke wanted for his birthday. He brought up the website, received my approval regarding its cost, and we proceeded to enter in all the required billing information. When we hit the “purchase” button we received a notice informing us that, unfortunately, the purchase did not go through. “Try again later,” it instructed us. Sure. Okay.

Five minutes later my wife’s phone buzzed, signaling the receipt of a text message.

“Ummm, Tim? Come here. I need to talk with you.”

“What’s up?”

“I just got a notice from your credit card company that you need to contact them. Looks like there might be some fraudulent activity going on. You’d better get on this right away.”

“Huh? Can’t be. I just got this card a few months ago – after another series of fraudulent purchases.”

“Yeah. Well, did you just order something with Luke? Online?”


We went to the computer and inspected the website, which read something akin to

I called the toll free number provided on Krista’s text message and anticipated the menu of completely unhelpful options, my pulse rate elevated due to the prospect of financial ruin, life on the streets of Greenville, OH, and unending opprobrium delivered by three teenaged amigos.

“Thank you for calling XYZ Card’s fraud alert line. Your call is extremely important to us.” Sigh. Heart rate climbing. “Please enter the zip code associated with the card at issue.” I did so, sighing heavily all the while. “Please enter in the last four digits of the cardholder’s social security number.” Heart hammering. Head pounding. Images of my life resembling Ironweed flashing in brain. “Thank you. Please remain on the line. A member of our fraud alert team will be on the line momentarily.” Wait, what? Surely, this cannot be. This MUST be a cruel tease.

“Hello, sir, my name is Theresa. Who am I speaking to?”

The Hallelujah Chorus played joyously in the background. I high-fived the air in front of me and jumped for joy, sending my right calf into a glorious spasm after landing from the impressive 2 inch vertical leap.

“Hello, Theresa. My name is Tim Swensen and I thank God for you….”

By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the column series Virtue and Mischief. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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