New world order
So you pull into the fast food drive-through and the voice comes squawking out of the box: "Welcome to McDonald's, may I take your order?"
You try to picture the person you're talking to. Maybe she sounds nice, or maybe grouchy. Maybe bright, maybe spacey. You figure you're soon going to see her in person when you get up to the pickup window.
At least, maybe wrong. As it turns out, some burger restaurants are now routing your conversation with the speaker box to call centers that are off-site from the restaurant -- sometimes way off site. So that while you're talking to a microphone in a strip mall in say, Portland, the person whose voice booms back out of the speaker is sitting in a call center in L.A. She takes your order, keys it into her computer, and it's sent over the 'net to the screen in front of the guy who's sweating over the grill in the Portland joint that you're sitting outside of.
And your order-taker may be handling "calls" from drive-throughs at a number of different restaurants all at once. That's the whole point -- the restaurant chain saves money because there's no down time for her between orders. While you're turning your radio back up, rolling up your window, getting your car back into gear, fiddling with your wallet to get your money out now that you know the total, and letting the next customer pull up behind you, the order-taker is busy doing her thing with a customer at the head of another line of autos far, far away. She doesn't get that 10 seconds to catch her breath any more.
She is not wearing a uniform. Indeed, she may not be wearing anything at all, because some of these "call centers" are in the workers' houses.
And it doesn't stop at Mickey D's. Pretty soon there will be a squawk box on your cart at Home Depot, and if you need to know where the caulking guns are, you're supposed to talk to the box. You'll get an answer from someone who's got the map of your store on their laptop screen. They're somewhere. Who knows where.
You can see where this is heading. Once these systems prove that they can squeeze an extra penny or two out of every customer interaction -- and I have no doubt that they will -- all the order-taker jobs will be outsourced to some place like India. Ordering a couple of cheeseburgers will be like trying to get tech support from Dell. Some guy in Rangoon will have to say "Would you like to supersize that?" five times before you understand what he's asking.
Eventually the same folks in Pakistan will be simultaneously taking both burger orders and calls about problems with Dell customers' laptops. There will inevitably be some confusion.
"I'll take a cheesebugrer happy meal, with milk, a quarter pounder with cheese, and a large Coke."
"First con I heb your name, oddriss, telphone nomber, and e-mail oddriss?"
When Jack in the Box tells you "You must exit first actually from all odder Windows progroms," you'll know the transition is complete.
I wonder how the religious authorities over there will handle the beef issue. I'm picturing some backlash. Hopefully no one will get hurt.
Then the day will come that we all dread: Al Qaeda takes over the call centers. Americans will be screaming at the kids in the pickup windows: "I didn't order three apple pies! And I said, a medium!" The nation will be paralyzed. The Jack in the Boxes will be laughing demonically. For all the violations of our civil liberties in the name of the war on terror, what is Bush doing to prevent that?