The bad new days

Joseph Aaron

I hate modern life.

I despise it, can’t stand it, am sick of it, am more than frustrated by it. And I really don’t care if that makes me seem like a stick in the mud, an old fuddy duddy, an altah kocker.

We think we keep progressing and yet it seems to me we are falling farther and farther back.

There was a time when you called a company, you spoke to a human being. A person you could talk to, explain why you were calling, try to work things out with, get your issue resolved.

Oh sure, you can still talk to a person after you go through a trillion prompts, pressing this and that and this and that, all designed to get you to do the work yourself, one moat after another trying really hard to prevent you from actually making it all the way through to an actual, real life, breathing, person.

And once exhausted by all you had to do to reach the guru at the top of the mountain, you then wind up with a person who is at best semi-human, who clearly is reading from a script, who clearly has been instructed what to say, who clearly is not really listening to you, who clearly is incapable of taking you in let alone actually helping you.

And who clearly is incapable of thinking. Ask them a question and they come back with their prepared answers, no matter what your situation.

Let me give you but two examples from the very many that have been driving absolutely crazy of late.

One involved Capital One, the credit card company, may all those who run it be tortured and die horrible deaths. I have had four Capital One credit cards for about 20 years now. One thing I’ve learned is that in today’s world long term relationships mean nothing. You can be a customer of a company for 20 years and it matters not at all. They treat everyone the same, like dirt.

Anyway, every month I pay my four Capital One bills online. Now as regular readers of this column know, I hate the internet, think it is debasing all humankind, has turned us all into nasty, snarky, mean people. Just read the comments section under any article on any website and you see how low human beings can go.

The internet makes everything so easy and so anonymous and so brings out the worst in all of us. Make up what you think is some clever username to hide behind and then feel free to say whatever you want about whoever you want, no holds barred, no values observed, no manners needed.

I’m not going to get into Trump this time, but I did last week watch one of his rallies and it scared me to death. Not so much because of all the lies he told, all the names he called, all the profanity he used, all the insanity he displayed, but  because of the reactions of the people there.

They loved it, couldn’t get enough of it, cheered and laughed and thoroughly enjoyed when he made fun of people by name, threatened harm to people by name, used words you teach your kids not to say.

They were not offended by any of it, they were delighted by all of it. I hate Holocaust analogies, but watching the crowd react to him gave me new insight into the Germans at Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies.

Anyway, so I don’t like the internet because anything goes which means nothing is too ugly or nasty. Say what you want, the more provocative the better. But though I hate it, I use it because it’s easier than dealing with calling the credit card company on the phone, where I have to verify who I am a thousand different ways, all so I can pay my bill. How many people, I wonder, pretend to be who they are not just so they can pay someone else’s bills?

If I may divert for a moment, for some reason two of the questions most asked to prove you are who you say you are is ‘what is your mother’s birthday’ and ‘what is your mother’s maiden name.’ Those didn’t particularly bother me until six months ago when my mom died.

Now each time they ask me her maiden name, I feel a pain in my soul. And I felt especially that the last few weeks since her birthday was October 7 and this October 7, it reminded me, I couldn’t call to wish her a happy birthday for the first time in my life.

So I go online to pay my Capital One bills for the month. And unlike every month for the past 20 years, it won’t let me. Instead, up comes a page that reads “we noticed something different about this sign in.”

What was different I had no idea. I was using the same computer I always do. Same username as always, same password as always, same wifi connection as always. Nothing in fact was different. But it said there was.

But fear not. It gave me two ways to get a code number to allow me to get into my own online account so I could pay them. Without going into details, I couldn’t use either of the two ways, but fear not, it said “currently don’t have access to any of these options? Give us a call, no need to worry, we’ll get you back on track.”

Like a fool I believed that. And so I called the number and got a ‘Bob’ from Abbottabad or somewhere and I told him I can’t use the two ways to get a code, but right on your website it says if you can’t, don’t worry we’ll get you back on track. So can you please get me back on track?

Well Bob says there’s two ways you can get the code. I tell Bob I saw that but I can’t use either of those two ways and it says if you can’t use those two ways, Capital One will give me a different way so no need to worry. So please give me that different way.

Bob tells me there are two ways and only two ways. But what about what it says about other ways right on your own website. Bob says there are only two ways. I ask to speak to a supervisor thinking that might help, sucker that I am. The supervisor had a smoother manner but basically told me there are only two ways. Yes, but it says right on your website that if I can’t use the two ways you will get me back on track. I mean come on there’s gotta be some other way.

I have called each day for two weeks, thinking, like all gamblers in Vegas, that I’d get lucky and speak to someone who would actually help me get back on track. Needless to say, I am still not back on track and so Capital One is still not allowing me to go online to pay my bills. Yes I know I can call and pay by phone. I can also stick my hand into a blender while it’s on but neither is a great idea.

And so I am shut out of my own online account because some computer somewhere sensed something was different about my sign in, even though absolutely nothing is different at all in any way.

In the old days, I’d call and explain and someone would help get it resolved. Those days, my friends, are long gone.

And then there is AOL, may those who run it suffer debilitating diseases and die horrible deaths. Now I realize the fact that I am still on AOL and not Google mail or Hotmail or whatsapp does indeed mean I am an old fuddy duddy altah kocker. But so it is.

I’ve been on AOL for about 30 years, not that that matters. Anyway, you used to be able to go to a page and easily change one of your email addresses. But when I tried to do so this week, I was told their policy had changed. That what was once easy to do is now impossible to do. Why, I asked. New policy, I was told. But it makes no sense, I said. I set up my email accounts I should be able to change the names of them. Can’t, they said, new policy, and around and around we went.

What that whole business typified to me is how we are living in a world where companies do whatever they want whenever they want for whatever reason they want and you just have to deal with it. They will not bend, they will not listen, they don’t care if it’s harder for you as long as it’s easier for them so they can employ fewer people and more robots and make more money.

I am frustrated, I miss the old days. I miss when you could call a company, get right through to a person no questions asked, could explain what you needed or were trying to do and they would help you.

Yes, there was a time when things actually worked that way.

But no more. Progress we call it. But is it? Is dehumanizing interactions, is taking the human factor out of things, is forcing employees not to deviate from scripts because it’s easier for the company even if it’s harder for the customer really a good thing?

The only good thing about all this is that it has made me appreciate Judaism more than ever. Appreciate Jewish values and principles and teachings and traditions. Judaism is about being a mensch more than anything else, about caring for others, about doing right by others, being kind to others.

Justice justice shalt thou pursue. Remember that you were once strangers in a strange land. Do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you. Derech eretz kudmah l’Torah, being a good person, treating people gently and kindly and nicely is more important, comes before even the Torah itself.

Judaism is about listening to others, respecting others, helping others. Now I realize the internet age has made that harder and harder, which is why it is more and more important.

Capital One and AOL may be doing all they can to drive me nuts, but I am trying to see them as showing me how a Jew is not to be, what Jewish values call on us not to do.

Instead of inciting me, I am trying to see that they are inspiring me to be what Judaism calls on all of us to do and be. When you pray, you don’t need to go through endless prompts or answer personal questions. G-d is there always, no hurdles in the way, no press ones to continue. When you are choosing how to act, there is no script to mindlessly read from, but a Torah that offers wisdom and guidance. And when you are dealing with your fellow Jew, it’s not about parroting company policy but listening with your heart and soul.

In an age depriving us more and more of our humanity, we need to cling to our Judaism more than ever.

2 Comments on "The bad new days"

  1. Totally agree! Great article!

  2. My man. 100% agree with him thank you for bringing up this subject.

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