Monday, November 18, 2013

The Grand Canyon of Enhanced Communication

The Grand Canyon of Enhanced Communication   
                The past few months I have been aware of how difficult it is to communicate. That is a broad generalization. But think abut it. How often have you been misunderstood by family and friends, those with whom you share like history and like interests. In my case, usually I didn't ask a pertinent question. Or I made an assumption. Or I did not check to see if we both meant the same thing by a particular word.
            I think long and hard about communication. I'm headed to a different country, one in which I will be the stranger, the minority, without adequate language. I won't know the rules. You know the rules I mean--the unwritten ones. Thinking about it too much gives me heart palpitations.
            Those thoughts lead me to consider a normal everyday communication tool, one which has been "enhanced" to make life (for somebody else--not me) easier. The telephone. Here is a typical instance.
            AAA, of which I have been a member for years, has an entire turkey platter of services. I have happily paid my annual fee and have only used emergency road service and that infrequently. But it dawned on me that I needed a raft of maps for my trip. I was vaguely aware they also helped with route information and such stuff. I decided to check them out.
            I started where anyone would start. I phoned the local AAA office nearest me, a mere hour's drive away. Riiiinnng. Riiiinnng. Riiiinnng.
            Automated answering: You have reached the Bremerton office of AAA. We are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. through 6 p.m. Please listen carefully to the following eight (I kid you not) options before making your selection.
            So I did. I listened to all eight options and knew that the right one for me was to choose “0” for operator, in hopes of talking to a real live person.
            “O” was an obvious good choice. The automated voice continued. This time I only had to listen carefully to the following four options before making my selection.
            My choice the second time was “0” for operator.
            This time the service rang through, someone picked up and immediately hung up. Was it something I said? Do I have bad breath?
            I'm stubborn. Again, I finger-walked through the routine. Again I chose “0” and “0”. Someone picked up and immediately hung up but not before i heard the first syllable and a half of a greeting from a live voice.            
            Now my dander was up. I gritted my teeth and I once more pushed “0” and “0”. Once more the service rang through with the same lack of result.
            Calmly, very calmly, dangerously calmly, I sorted through my options, chose “0” and “0”. Heather answered. By this time I was so relieved to hear a human live person that my side of the conversation went something like this:
            "Heather, so nice to hear your voice. How's the family? Uh, huh. Tsk. Tsk. How is your mother dealing with this? Is she okay? And the kids, doing well in school? No. Well, remember, this is the rebellious age for him. I'm sure you've given him a strong foundation and he will come through and be a fine young man. And your husband? Out of work, you say. Encourage him to spread his net wide. Something will come up. Hard times do not last forever. Me? Oh, me. I'm driving to Mexico and I need maps. I'm crossing the border in Arizona. I prefer secondary roads where possible. You can help me? Oh, thank you. You take care now, you hear."
            Heather had asked me to come on down to the office. She had arranged for me to receive an assortment of maps which included every state I might possibly drive through, a wonderful huge map of Mexico, and a detailed 104 page trip guide which even points out stretches of road construction.
            Not that road construction can be avoided. I'll be driving through vast empty land with few towns of note. I'm giving myself plenty of time. When I have to stop and wait for gravel trucks and road graders and oilers, I will have maps to study. And if the wait time drags out too long, I can always phone Heather at the AAA office in Bremerton and chat a while.
            With my superior communication skills and stubborn ways, I'm sure I will be okay in Mazatlan. See what rewards a little persistence gave me with only four phone calls?
Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
November 7, 2013

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