When the ladybot says ‘hold on’ …

THE FIFTH COLUMN 

We are currently experiencing high call volumes. Please continue holding. Please wait for the next available agent. Actually, all the available agents have buggered off for the day, but we’re going to keep you on the phone anyway.

Please continue holding … log on at double you double you double you … Your call may be recorded for security and control purposes. This is a free service.

Please continue holding.

To redefine your personal parameters, press one. To get lost in another bot loop and get another lecture on debt, press two. Thank you for calling TransUnion.

Please listen carefully.

All our available agents are unavailable, but please keep holding.

You may not have been aware that this company, TransUnion, has a lock on you because it “manages” your credit record. Now you know. We will immediately try to sell you “membership” if you call us for any reason.

Yes, we have a surveillance role in your life. We collect information on you such as whether you’ve defaulted on a debt or have a South African Revenue Service (Sars) “judgment” against you. This information we provide to anyone who wants to sign you up as a client.

But it’s not our responsibility to update that information, if, say, you’ve dealt with the Sars business. No, that’s Sars’s responsibility. And if they don’t send a note, well, then they don’t. And it’s your responsibility to update the information.

Please continue holding.


… under section 136 of the Credit Act, you may complain to the ombudsman …

Please continue holding on to your shredded nerves, battered as they are by the call-centre bureaucracies of three or four organisations who can’t really deal with your problem in one go, staffed by people who can largely only communicate as if they were robots. Why is that? Before the robots take all our jobs, first they’ve got to turn the people into robots?

No, you cannot submit your clearance letter from Sars at this number. You have to call the other toll-free number, and if anyone answers they will tell you where to send the letter.

Please continue holding till your ear falls off because of radiation poisoning. If no one answers (and no one does), you can just sit on the phone and listen to a well-spoken ladybot tell you about debt or something …

Whaddaya mean debt? I can get that lecture from the bank. I don’t need TransUnion to tell me, and certainly not in such honeyed monologues.

Please listen carefully.

Would you like to mangle your brain in a revolving carnival of bot voices?

How complex a tangle of fear and desire can a bunch of computers possibly weave?

If you would like to know, please press three. This is a free service.

It drains you of all life but it’s free.

Please continue holding.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Author Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.

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