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Help! I’m Caught in a Technological Loop & Can’t Escape

November 29, 2019 Margaret Crane

I did a very impulsive thing when I first moved to New York City. I signed up on an app for a cleaning person to come every month for a year. Little did I know that I would not be communicating with a person but would text/email with a robot (I think they're called text bots) and get caught in a technological tangle. I decided to call him PITA (pain in the ass). I think of PITA as a him. I’m not sure why but maybe because a female robot would be softer, kinder, more considerate and not let me get into this mess.

This situation was not good. Like many of our children at times, bots don’t listen or respond to what we want. I have found out the hard way. Unfortunately, I am not hardwired to handle this technological loop from which I couldn’t extricate myself. Being so involved, reminded me of the time when I became entangled with a book of the month club 50 years ago. I remember trying to cancel to no avail and then having to craft a very strongly worded letter to terminate the service. At least I was dealing with humans back then, who called or wrote back. Not so with this cleaning service. I dealt with an algorithm rather than a person. Where and to whom would I even send a letter? Why waste a stamp?

The drama began with a cancellation after my younger son informed me, he was coming in town, at the same time the maid was scheduled. My new apartment is too small for everyone, and I knew it would be messy with my son and his girlfriend staying in the living room. Their stuff would be everywhere. Three days before they were to come, I cancelled the maid…or thought I had. She showed up anyway. I was told I had to pay regardless, even though I requested she come after he left. I sent her away for it was pointless to clean a mess that would get messier. I then attempted to reschedule.

That posed another gaffe. My son decided to stay longer than expected so I tried to cancel what I thought was the rescheduled maid appointment. I got no response except a reminder that she’d be returning on Monday.

I tried different tactics. Surely one would work.

I was sweet and complimentary. “Hi PITA (I didn’t tell him what it really stood for but said it’s one of my favorite foods). You seem like a nice bot. Please don’t send anyone anymore to clean my place. I know you’ll comply.”

Response: Nothing. He didn’t even say thank you or hope you had a nice family visit.

The apologetic-cum-dumb approach. “Hey PITA, it’s my fault. I don’t know how to use this app and the website keeps rejecting my password. I’m 73 years old and just not used to this kind of system. Thanks for understanding.”

Response: Nothing. He was not gracious at all.

I was tough: “Please stop sending messages, texts and maids. I don’t require your service any longer.”

Response: Please fill out this survey and rate our company.

Me: This must be a joke.  

I was contrite again and sweet: “I goofed. So sorry but I am not technically proficient and don’t know how to use this app. Do not take it personally, PITA, but I want our relationship to end now. I hope you get other wonderful jobs.”

Response: “Would you please fill out this survey and rate the woman who cleaned your apartment?”

I was pissed. “I DO NOT WANT YOUR SERIVCE. I am done with you.” Is that a good way to break up? Probably not. “PLEASE STOP,” I begged. “Do you not know how to read?”

The robot never got the message. Here’s what happened:

Reply: Several more text messages and emails later I was informed the maid would show up on Monday.

My reply: “I told you, at first nicely, that I don’t want or need your service. I cancelled it.”

Robot: “Kathryn B will be there on Monday.”

Me: “But I don’t want her to come. I cancelled.”

Robot: “Kathryn B will be there at 10 a.m. on Monday.”

Me: “Do you have a problem? You keep repeating yourself.”

No response.

Maid: Monday morning. There she was sitting in the lobby. I explained the situation to her and sent her away.

Building concierge: Phone rings. “There’s a women downstairs who said she’s here to clean your apartment.”

Me: “But I sent her away.”

Concierge: “This is another woman”.

Me: “Please send her away.” The beauty of living in a door-man building is that at least there are people who have my back.

One hour later.

Robot: “Please fill out our survey and rate the woman, Kathryn B. who came on Monday.”

Me: “Are you kidding me? She didn’t clean. I sent her away,” I emailed.

Robot: We’re hoping you’ll rate Kathryn B. and fill out our survey.

When I told my son what was happening, he said: “EEK. I can’t believe this” He then took my phone, opened the app and cancelled the service.

I continued to get messages from PITA to rate the two cleaning people who came and were sent away.

Me: “PITA, I’m calling my credit card company to block my payments.”

PITA wasn’t even phased. He asked me to fill out a survey rating the company.

Call to credit card company: “Hi. I have an unusual situation that is all my fault. I did an impulsive thing and am technologically challenged. But” … and I went on to explain. The company said it would investigate and that I shouldn’t worry.

Robot: More text messages and emails. Rate this one and that one.

Me:  Oh, this is crazy. Maybe PITA is trying to gaslight me. Can a robot think to do these things?

Barbara to the rescue. “I have a wonderful kind and thorough cleaning lady who would be glad to work for you. Here’s her cell phone number. Text or call and use my name.”

I did and left a voice message. One hour later, Mira called back and we arranged a day for her to clean. It was so easy, so refreshing to talk to a live person with a sweet voice on the phone. We talked about possible dates and times and worked out what was convenient for both of us. She even said, “thank you” and “looking forward to meeting you next week.”  I said the same.

Lesson learned: Don’t use this type of technology if you’re not proficient. The service is called Handy, and I don’t recommend using it, if you’re not handy with a Smartphone and apps and don’t understand the limitations of artificial intelligence. I know some my age are very technologically savvy, but I know I am not. Although I did question my real intelligence in getting hooked into Handy in the first place, I’m smart enough not to do so again. 

As my late mother always said, we live and learn. I can only hope that one day PITA could say those same words to me and in real time.

 




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