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A collaboration over too much coffee.
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18 February, 2006

Computerben - A True Story

The domain name expired, with it my website went missing from cyber world. I was desperate. I phoned the domain registration company. All this while I was basking in the mistaken assumption that my domain and hosting was already renewed having paid for it earlier.

“But that was hosting renewal, not domain renewal,” Ms. Computerben informed me.

“But I had bought it as a hosting and domain package.”

“No. You renewed the domain. Your site is already showing, “This page cannot be displayed.””

“That I know. Thanks for the kind information.”

Computerbenji didn’t get the sarcasm, as she measured out each word of well-practiced spiel and told me what to do.

“If you have a credit card, pay online. That would be fast and your domain won’t expire. I will keep your domain name on hold till then. But remember there’s only one day.”

But I have a credit card, and for a computer geek as me, making an online payment is child’s play, I think, I mean like adding two and two on an abacus. I maintain a deliberately cool attitude through all this, you know, one must never let the machine overtake one, least of all a computer.

“That would be easy. I have a credit card. I will pay immediately and I hope the site would be online soon.”

“Yes.”

So I accessed the domain registering website to pay for my domain name. Their website is a bit muddled but I write such muddle and I can wade through them easily enough.

Me, write content? Who says? This one is straight out of scientific fiction. Total mess up.

I had to wade through many pages with flashy icons before I came to the payment page. There I click and enter my credit card number, the date of expiry, my name, and the code number. Yes, they need all the security they can get.

Then I click “submit.” Hurray job done! Time to celebrate, uncork the bubbly.

“But no, my friend,” computerben says, “more is still to come. Try this:”

Transaction Failed! I look at the screen agast.

Computerben has a habit of playing games. I go back. Do it all over again. No luck.

Transaction Failed!

By now my coolness has developed cracks the size of big lunar craters.

I phone my credit card company. I keep all numbers safely, I am a computer geek you see, so I know what can go wrong.

“See you fools, I have bought your card after much cajoling, and now I can’t use this lump of excreta. You better do something before I dump your card in the nearest stinking gutter.” I let them have it.

The voice at the other end seems oddly metallic. I am talking to computerben again. She doesn’t understand me.

Dial 1 for English Dial 2 for Hindi, - says computerben sweetly, with a false enthusiasm that irritates me. She says as if she is having, well, what else, an orgasmic high.

I dial 1.

Dial 1 for existing customers. Dial 2 for new customers. Dial 3 for our credit card contests says computerben. Did I hear right. Is it 1 or 2? Am I existing or am I new?

I take a chance and dial 1.

Dial 1 for gold card. Dial 2 for silver card.

I dial 1 again. I have a gold card.

Dial 1 for billing information, dial 2 for a loan on your credit card outstanding, dial 3 for grrrrr!

Exasperating, rude and genuinely maddening.

I almost convulse with indignation. Instead I use my string of chosen expletives. Even that doesn’t work.

And then:

Dial 9 for operator assistance!

Phew!

What brilliance! Couldn’t they have put an operator there in the beginning and avoided wasting my precious minutes? Whatever happened to the human touch in business? No, this is the age of computerbens, they want to show that they are the superior species.

“I am computerben how can I assist you?” This model is the primitive human clone.

“I made attempts to pay using my credit card. Each time it failed. I want to know the reason.”

“But, sir, this is customer support not billing support,” says computerben sweetly.

“What’s the difference?” I ask belligerently.

A moment of silence.

“The difference? Well, we handle support and they handle billing.”

She is positively amused by my ignorance and I can imagine a perfect sneer in her voice.

But I fall flat for this seductive line and ask for the number of billing support.

By now I am thoroughly ruffled. The cool avoirdupois is gone. I dial billing support.

Dial 1 for existing customers. Dial 2 for new customers, computerben’s sweetness is unwavering.

Again?

Again I dial any random number. I am smarter, being wiser now. I want to circumvent the system. I keep dialing any number till I come to that part that says dial 9 for operator assistance. I know computerben’s ploy by now.

At last, computerben says, Dial 9 for operator assistance.

I dial 9.

Mesmerizing, lilting music assails me.

All operators are busy. Please hold on, she says.

Meanwhile, the credit card company plugs their loans, their SMS contests, the music concerts they are sponsoring and the hurricane and tsunami charities they are supporting. Then a human voice, a live computerben clone comes online.

Your card number?

I give my card number.

Your expiry date?

I give my card expiry date. I have all these written down in a small diary, which I keep with me at all times. After all, being wired and networked means you are working twenty-four hours of the day anywhere you are.

Your name?

I give my name.

Your address?

Now why would live computerben want that? Is she going to pay me a visit? If so, should I dress up in a tie and jacket for the grand seduction?

“So what’s the problem?” live computerben clone sounds as if she is tired of watching 24-hour music channels but her voice is still sweet.

“I charged my card twice on the internet and each time the transaction failed.”

“What message did you receive?”

“Transaction failed.”

“But, sir, I don’t see anything wrong with your card. Then how did the transaction fail?”

I grit my teeth. She is supposed to know that. How do they manage to pick the dumbest ones for the job?

“I thought I asked you the same question. Aren’t you supposed to know computerbenji?”

“Sorry, what? Did you ask me something?”

“Yes, I asked you why my transactions failed, you dumbo. What’s the answer?”

“Nothing is wrong with your account. Try using the card again. It looks perfectly okay to me. But I see you have Rupees fifteen-thousand outstanding in your account.”

“Yes,” I say and rue all the useless clothes and gadgets that are occupying precious space in my meager house.

Will she ask me to pay up, or else?

“We will give you a loan of Rupees fifteen-thousand that will pay off that outstanding amount. This loan will only attract a one per cent interest. Otherwise we would charge you three per cent.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” I am so grateful that I stammer very badly.

On hindsight, I realize, this was a ploy. If they pay me a loan to pay this outstanding, who will pay me to pay for future expenses? Computerben laid a trap and I very gullibly fell into it.

“You will get the loan this very day. See the benefits we give you at ABC Credit Card Company. You will pay only one per cent interest,” Computerben’s voice is exultant.

“Thank you,” I bow graciously.

Another sale made.

Some more music from the albums the credit card company is sponsoring, some more new loan schemes and SMS contests and Computerben disconnects.

I am totally disoriented and at a loss for words.

Why had I phoned them in the first place?

To pay for my domain registration.

Did I get that done?

No!

But I bought something didn’t I?

A loan for Rupees fifteen-thousand at one per cent interest per month and more loans to come till I am completely bankrupt.

I phone my domain registration company.

“Did you pay for your domain registration?” The Ms. Computerben there asks me.

“No. I tried to make a credit card payment. But it failed twice. So what do I do? Will my domain name expire?”

“You can send us a cheque by mail. I will hold your domain name for two days. But no guarantee.”

But why did I go through the whole exercise when I could have paid by cheque? And the thought of having to pay a loan for my credit card outstanding still rankles me.

Never in the whole episode did I feel as if I was a human being interacting with another, not even once. Well, next time I have a payment to make I will trust good old cheque, and not computerben.

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