Thursday, July 22, 2004

The Times Union is running an interesting series this week on rudeness.  Today's story contains this:

"A similar narrow view can be engendered by "faceless technology" like e-mail and the Internet, said Deborah Smith, an online college professor who lives in Albany. More than once, Smith has felt the smack of a haughty-seeming, disrespectful e-mail from undergrads who probably just didn't think about how their communique might be received.

"Students can get very demanding online. They'll say, 'Hey, I want this,' " Smith said. "There's a loss of eloquence and respect. I bet you dollars to doughnuts they wouldn't speak like that if they were addressing me in person."

In the online class this summer, I have noticed the disrespectful attitudes of a couple of students in the discussion. These are not bad students, but bright, serious ones. I don't think it is intentional. I believe that some people don't understand the subtle differences between electonic and face-to-face communication.

But nothing matches the recent rudeness I experienced on the phone. Because of the Do Not Call list, I rarely get telemarketers calling any more. Since I work from home a lot, this has been great, because I can screen calls less, and instead I usually answer the phone right way when it rings now.

However, I have noticed that telemarketers have become even more sneaky. They can legally call you if you already do business with them. A few weeks ago, a man called and asked me to do a survey about fire safety. I like surveys and research, so I agreed to participate. He asked me about ten simple questions about smoke detectors, extinguishers, and exits, thanked me, and that was that.

A few days ago, a woman called, saying that I had won a $1,500 security system because my survey had been entered in a contest. I patiently waited for an opening while she rattled off the wonderful prize I would get, which included wireless equipment, stickers for my windows announcing to all that the house is protected, $99 installation fee waiver, all generously sprinked with overuse of my first name, and she ended with the inevitable punchline, that my cost would be only $1 per day for the monitoring service. She then took a breath.

Now, there was a time when I would not have picked up the receiver - because the Caller ID said "Out of Area." (Some cell phones come through that way, but who cares? Email me.) Then there was a time when I would have slammed the phone down while she was speaking. But recently I have not been feeling rude - unlike, if the series is true, most others in society - and I understand that working in a hotroom is a horrible job, one that I am blessed to not have to do. "It ain't so far from the diamonds in the sidewalk to the dirt in the gutter," as John Prine sings. (OK, maybe that's a little extreme for this example. But read on, in this woman's case, maybe not.)

She said something like, "I just have to confirm your address, are you the homeowner at...?" I said, "I'm really not interested in this. Thanks a lot." And I prepared to hang up. She responded, "May I ask why not? Is it the $1 per day" So I said, "well, no, actually, I am not interested in having a security system. I think it is kind of paranoid, especially where I live. Plus, I had one where I worked once and it was a hassle. And, I have my security...two dogs."

She shot back, "then why did you waste my time?" Now, I was already in no mood for this. We were out the door to Samsonville, the air conditioner had already been turned off, and it was getting pretty hot. But I went cold. I said, "why did I waste your time?" "Yes," from her, still indignant. As I slammed down the phone, I said, "I was politely listening to you, even though I suspected it was a come on. So why did you waste MY time?"

I should have asked what company she represented - I don't remember her telling me, and of course Caller ID showed nothing - so I could report them to the Do Not Call registry.

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