Technology: Hello! This is Voice Mail Speaking

The new phone systems are fast, efficient and a pain in the neck

One day last month Linda Hiwot, a Brooklyn junior high school teacher, got a surprise when she phoned her bank for a credit-card balance. Instead of the familiar human teller, she was answered by a computer-generated voice that told all callers with Touch-Tone phones to "press 1 now," thus beginning a series of steps that would eventually lead to her balance. When she called the IRS about an overdue tax check, another computer voice directed her to "push 9" for refunds. Even a local department store had acquired a robot operator, which like an overeager clerk insisted on taking Hiwot on...

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