The internet is great for many things. It’s created millions of jobs, streamlined the sharing of information, and enabled many people like me to have a platform to readily publish. It also allows people do many things anonymously. For better or for worse, and many times it makes things worse.
The internet has served as a foundation for all kinds of bullying on the internet. In the last few years we’ve seen many examples of the bullying leading to suicides. On a day to day basis people just argue and say things they wouldn’t say directly to that person’s face. We can hide behind computer screens with practically no fear of retaliation; at least no fear of retaliation that will hurt us.
But long before the internet, there was another medium that was virtually anonymous. Telephony enabled many of the things the internet brought us, and even serves as the backbone for the internet still. And the phone still allows for such anonymity when we have to call customer service.
Think about the last time you had to call customer service. It was likely to dispute some kind of issue such as a charge on your cell phone bill or fee on your checking account. You have to gear up for it. Prepare for a fight. Because you know the company is going to try to hang on to that fee. And when you expect a fight, you’ll probably get one.
We start off more aggressive than it may need to be. We’re angry and think the company is trying to pull one over on us. We assume the representative is in on the game and therefore we have a right to be abusive to them:
Call-center employees can average up to 10 hostile encounters a day in which they are subject to vile and personal insults, screaming, cursing and threats. Imagine being treated abusively in your job numerous times a day, every single day. (link below)
These call center people aren’t allowed to fight back of course. And some studies indicate that these people suffer from bouts of depression and worse while dealing with their jobs. Many of them are underpaid for the type of abuse they may deal with.
These call centers do serve as a buffer between the executives looking for profits and the angry customer, but even if we feel we have the right to be angry, do we have the right to throw humanity out the door? That person on the phone is indeed a human being. And while you may not have anything against them, you make make it sound like their entire family and ethnic background aren’t deserving of your attention.
It goes both ways too. Last fall I got a call from a collections agent. An old apartment had failed in reaching me to settle a small bill. It was their own incompetence in not documenting my forwarding information properly but they sold the debt to a collections agent. The agent couldn’t even tell me who I owed the debt to, much less what the debt was about. So we had a back and forth where he convinced me I was scum for not paying up.
Paying the debt certainly wasn’t the issue, but I won’t pay something unless it’s actually owed. Nonetheless, this guy used his anonymity to harass and scare me to hurry along the process. He was so good I had to stop him out of character and tell him how incredible it was just to participate in his craft, even if I was the victim.
Far too often people use vessels such as the internet or phone to be much more abusive than we would be in person. Why? Is it because we’re too scared to do it in person for fear of what that person might do or say in response? That likely plays a part. But I like to believe it’s partly because we’re all sensitive animals deep down and couldn’t handle being so rude if we actually saw what we were doing to people on the other side of that phone cable.
Next time you want to be rude on the phone or online, do it while looking at the picture of a smiling stranger. It might get you further too.
Image: Mr. Theklan