Accessibility links

Computerized Voice Gives Americans the Directory Assistance Blues


Today, many of us at VOA will pick up the telephone and call Darby Bailey, a California actress. We call her a thousand times a month or so, maybe more. And every time, she says pretty much the same thing. You see, Darby is a surreal person -- an automated voice. She is a real woman, but it is her computerized voice that we talk to. Darby is the voice of Directory Assistance, the place you call to get the telephone number of a person or business when you know the name but not the number.

Breathing human beings used to answer and help you. But now you get Robo-Darby instead.

Our call begins with the deep, commanding voice of another actor, James Earl Jones, who intones, "Verizon nationwide 4-1-1" - promoting the telephone company that is providing this "service."

Then our conversation with Darby - or at least her voice -- goes like this:

Robo-Darby: "City and state, please."

Us: "Reisterstown, Maryland."

Robo-Darby: "Sorry, what city and state?" [The computer is not understanding "Reisterstown."]

Us: "Reisterstown, Maryland."

Robo-Darby: "For what listing?"

Us: "Fred Simkowitz."

Robo-Darby: "Sorry, what listing?" [Darby sounds a little annoyed!]

Us: "Fred Simkowitz."

Robo-Darby: "Thank you. One moment." [Ahh, she's giving up.]

After a wasted 20 seconds, a live operator -- who could have answered the telephone in the first place - finally comes on the line to look up the number.

Phone companies say this little dance with a computerized voice-recognition system saves money and employee time. It works pretty well -- if you're asking for something easily recognizable, like Joe Jones in New York rather than Fred Simkowitz in Reisterstown.

But talking to a machine makes a lot of people angry!

As Robo-Darby might put it, "Sorry!"

Yeah, me, too.

XS
SM
MD
LG