“All deception in the course of life is indeed nothing else but a lie reduced to practice, and falsehood passing from words into things.”
Robert Southey

I was the victim of an activity I will call “anti-networking” this morning and I’m mildly enraged.

Most of the rest of the world calls this violation of human trust, “robo-calling”. If you haven’t had a phone in the last five years, this involves some maladroit misanthrope setting up a computer to call you up to sell you something. The older version of these blights on human communication were easy to detect as they were simple recordings. Most of us felt completely justified terminating the call.

Not so anymore.

The modern versions of these loathsome despoilers of connectivity have become quite sophisticated with language recognition and pre-programmed responses. I’ve been on one call where the vile robotic interloper actually handled my objections and it did it so skillfully that I almost couldn’t tell that I wasn’t talking with an actual human. I even had one of them get upset with me when I asked it if was a robot!

Why do I hate this so much? Oh, let me count the ways.

  • I can’t avoid it. As a business owner, I don’t have the liberty of ignoring phone calls. Clients and potential clients have called me with numbers that look like spam callers and the robots have called using numbers that could be a client. I can’t tell the difference from caller ID, so I have to pick up and take the chance of subjecting myself to the blandishments of these automated hawkers of snake oil.
  • It damages my trust. This isn’t only the fault of the robo-callers. Even when a human is on the other end of the telemarketing reign of terror, it puts me on the defensive, which means I can be a bit more brusque than usual. Once I had a gentleman call me from a corporate security company. He immediately assured me that he wasn’t trying to sell me anything — which is exactly what a telemarketing troglodyte would say, right? By the time I finally got it through my head that this person was actually calling to find out about hiring me to train their sales staff, I had already given them a bad first impression. I didn’t get the job.
  • It damages everyone’s trust. If you have a phone, you’ve received these calls. Admit it. If you don’t recognize the number, you either ignore it or, if you answer, you’ve got your “don’t mess with me” tone. Again, you may adjust as soon as you recognize a friendly voice, but it can start out the conversation on a decidedly cooler tone than we would prefer.
  • It is a waste of my time. I can only remember one cold call that brought me any level of value. The gentleman (and, yes, it was an actual human with a folksy kentucky-esque accent) started his call with “Mr Peters, I’m going to be honest with you. This is a cold call. Before you tell me to get lost, can I share with you one of the worst jokes of all time?” He, at least, entertained me. I didn’t buy from him, but I enjoyed the few minutes on the phone with him. In general, though, my response to cold calls whether human or robotic is: I don’t want what you are selling. I’ve given to the charities I want to give to this year. If you want my opinion on your survey, you can pay me my hourly consulting rate. I don’t do business with people I don’t know and have only just met over the phone. At this point you are simply a soul-sucking time vampire who is taking my focus away from those areas which can feed my family and pay my mortgage.
  • It’s deception. At its mildest, those automated callers make a mockery of actual human connection and communication. Whoever is using them isn’t even putting forth the effort of communicating with me on a personal basis. I’m simply a mark to be separated from my money in whatever way is convenient. The worst of these are tools of identity thieves. In fact, I fell for the one recently where as soon as I said “Hello”, a young woman’s voice asked “Can you hear me?” and I, not thinking, replied “Yes”. It turns out this is a scam now where they record that response and then use your own voice to approve charges or changes to financial accounts. Now I’ll be wasting more time trying to monitor my accounts and figure out how I can prevent this information from being used against me.

This is evil. This is someone taking the best of us — our desire to be connected and be of service to each other — and using it to take advantage. It is anti-networking and only serves to fill their pockets at the cost of an increasingly distrustful and disconnected world.

Please, do be aware of the situation. Be careful. But also, be the guardian of your own attitudes. Don’t let these unscrupulous bottom feeders take away your own humanity. Take a stand without losing the support that comes with being a part of a community.

Keep connecting.

Photo by Joe Wu