In second grade a friend told me that I had a monotone voice. The word must have seemed so scholarly at that age. I denied it then but I asked my parents because I felt a need to know if I really was that different. I remember my mom telling me yes, I did in fact have a monotone voice. She may have hedged and said somewhat monotone voice, but the important thing is that she didn't deny it. I remember exploring possible solutions but no one could really help me. How does one change the way they've spoken their entire life? Or at least the part of life one can remember at age eight.
Recently, the 50th caller asked if I was a robot.
I work at a call center and I repeat myself a lot, mandatory scripting necessitates that. I have thanked more than 10,000 callers for calling customer service. I have given out my first name more than 10,000 times and asked for account numbers more than 10,000 times. The word myriad comes from the Greek and means 10,000, which is why it's entered English to mean countless. 10,000 pennies weigh 881 pounds, and would stand 49 feet tall, assuming one could arrange that many pennies in one single stack.
Callers who ask if I'm a robot or a real person have a few predictable responses. The most common is simple surprise and then continuation of the call as normal. In most cases people have a defined problem, and want that problem dealt with more than they're interested in some man with a robotic voice. I've had people apologize for thinking I'm a robot. I've had people imitate robots—I do a much better version, thank you very much. I've heard people in the background of a speakerphone say “He sounds like a robot.”
I sometimes address these people directly. Most seem to think it funny, some sound almost hurt like my monotony was a deliberate attempt to make them seem foolish.
I admit it: I sound repetitive when I begin a call. Every co-worker who has heard me mention my tally of robot-related questions offers well-meaning advice. “It's your intonation,” a co-worker told me. “It's the way you enunciate and have a slight pause before giving your name, just like a robot would.”
Another said. “You sound procrustean.”
The same well-meaning co-workers laugh when they hear me tell another person I'm a not a robot. Sometimes I laugh when they laugh and I need to quickly mute my microphone. My supervisor thinks it's funny. I got her to promise a robot-themed party when the 50th person asks if I'm a robot. I'll probably bring in a cake with silver frosting. Coworkers in the call monitoring department have even managed to catch someone asking if I was a robot. They suggested my phone system be switched out to see if that helps. I have never been penalized for sounding like a robot.
My tally of these calls grows weekly. I've gone four days in a row without being asked if I'm a real person, and then three callers within two hours will ask me. Even when I do my best to sound lively or upbeat, someone will ask. It seems to happen slightly more when I'm tired, but I'll be asked if I'm a robot on days when I'm practically vibrating with vigor. But in my own head I sound sing-songy.
In my own head my voice bounces up and down like a newscaster's.
I feel my throat's muscles constricting and loosening to bounce my words up and down the bass clef like my voice is being played by the left hand of a pianist. More succinctly put, I'm doing everything I can to sound less like a robot.
It doesn't really matter honestly. I worked so well as a temp that I was actually hired on permanently. I consistently handle calls in the effective time range. I actually have a chance to help some people. I've made people's day. More religious customers have thanked God for connecting with me because I solved every problem on their account.
And so I continue to answer calls like a robot. Perhaps I've even fulfilled a childhood playtime fantasy of mine by complete and total accident.