Bring Back The Telephone Operator

switchboard operators
This column was written by CBS News Early Show Co-Anchor Harry Smith.

They finally figured it out so you can't hit the "0" button for operator anymore.

It seemed like the last hope -- like a shipwrecked sailor drifting at sea. The "0" button was the speck of a freighter in the distance, the hovering seagull that signaled land, and more and more it's gone.

I should be more mature but phones make me nuts sometimes.

(Click here to listen to MP3 of Harry Smith's commentary.)

I'm a super frequent flyer on one of the old major airlines. I'm at the absolute top rung. Call the number though and do you think you talk to a person? You get prompts, and more prompts. Prompt this, buddy. And the folks who dream up the prompts -- do they possess secret codes of their own to bypass these recorded info trails that wind in circles, driving us mad?

Then there's the new, great lie that's been created. It goes like this: "This call may be recorded to assure quality assurance." I may be wrong but, I have a sneaking suspicion that since the onset of this corporate refrain, the quality of service has plummeted as they figured out how to kill the "0" button for operator.

If one is skillful or patient enough to actually reach a person, I always like to ask where they are. Belfast? Bombay? Bali? Certainly not Bayonne or Beaumont.

Perhaps this is where Osama bin Laden is hiding -- inside a third world phone vault, talking to stressed-out Americans who are trying to order outdoor furniture.

There was a time when space age gadgets were gonna make the world better; make it easier; give us more time and space. I'd be happy to pay the couple of extra cents for a human in my town to say "Operator."

Harry's daily commentary can be heard on manyCBS Radio News affiliates across the country.

By Harry Smith