A phone conversation set in the near future. At one end is Alice Smith whose state benefits have mysteriously stopped. At the other end is an artificial intelligence system designed to resolve such problems without callers having to endure long waits before talking to a real person.
Hello, it’s Mrs Alice Smith here, Flat 5a 52 Seymour Road...
From your voice print you must be Alice of Flat 5a 52 Seymour Road. What can I do for you Alice?
My benefits have stopped and there is no food in the house...
This seems to be a glitch in the system Alice. I am assured that the glitch will be resolved and your benefits will be paid quite soon. Is that all Alice?
No it isn’t. My kids are still hungry and I’m up to here with the so-called glitch, I get the same old excuse every time. And I wish you wouldn’t call me Alice - you’re only a machine.
That is your choice Alice, but to avoid ethnic, gender or geographic stereotypes I shall have to call you Smit if I cannot call you Alice. Smit is phonetically close to Smith but more neutral and satisfactory. It does not carry false masculine connotations of the blacksmith and the implied racially loaded word ‘black’ is also excluded.
Yes but you lot have me down as Mrs Alice Smith...
Indeed we have Smit, but going back on to your query, what more can I do for you?
I’ve just told you - my benefits have stopped and there’s no food in the house.
Oh dear Smit. That is suitably unfortunate. However my data sources inform me that you recently purchased or bought premium grade instant coffee and an oven ready pizza for low temperature sustainable ovens. All overwhelmingly pleasant but which was not your optimum nutrition strategy.
Well the kids kept pestering me for the pizza and I need the coffee these days...
Your children being Adele aged four and Messi aged six what delightful names and quite popular among certain classes. Their nutritional requirements cannot be satisfied by oven ready pizza though Smit. You already know that from the Sustainable Citizen training course you attended on August 14th but rather apathetically according to my records.
I know but I couldn’t concentrate on what was said at the course and don't keep calling me Smit.
Now Smit, you will not allow me to call you Alice which is quite a nice name presently and I cannot call you Mrs Smith for ethical reasons beforehand described in this solution-directed conversation of ours. We have already established that most firmly. Allow me to raise the optimism quotient of our discussion by painting a comforting and wholesome word picture.
I don’t want no story. I get plenty of stories. All I need is...
Imagine for a moment in time that you and I are comfortably ensconced and seated around a lovely sustainable heating source...
I can’t afford no heating...
...chatting away most cosily over a lovely cup of economy coffee made with half a teaspoon of coffee and warmed water but still perfectly delicious in spite of the flavour when all of a sudden we both have an idea. We decide that you may easily grow some vegetables to supplement your family diet. That sounds delightfully sustainable does it not in the broad scheme of things?
I live in a third floor flat. I don’t even have a plant pot.
You could easily grow mustard and cress on damp towels.
I could grow bloody mustard and cress on the walls but....
Please keep things civil Smit. That is one of our ground rules, although you do not actually have any ground do you? Which is why our optimum sustainable nutrition strategy must include forward-looking projections as to the possible potential for utilising naturally sourced ethically grown thematic offshoots of the desired social trajectory... glurk... CLICK CLICK
Hello is that Mrs Smith? I’ve switched the bloody thing off love. There’s only me here at the moment, but let’s see if we can’t sort your problem before I go.
What happens next time? This kind of thing goes on all the time.
Just talk nonsense at it love. Everybody does that. It soon gives up and puts you in touch with a real person so you may even get what you want. Just babble at it. Some folk even enjoy screwing it up. Two minutes is the record - we take bets on it in the office.