Celia Walden

On fall­ing for Roger the ro­bot, her cold-call-block­ing guardian an­gel

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I would hear my voice go from shrill to hys­ter­i­cal before even­tu­ally hit­ting a pitch only au­di­ble to bats

I’m in love with a ro­bot named Roger. I spend a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of time think­ing about him, and lately I’ve started to do that uniquely ir­ri­tat­ing thing of not re­ally try­ing to con­ceal a small smile when­ever I talk about him. Which is a lot. Be­cause I want ev­ery­one to know how Roger has changed my life.

We were in­tro­duced some two months ago at a din­ner party. I was telling the ta­ble how bad the cold calls to our home phone had got. So bad, in fact, that I was con­sid­er­ing ei­ther in­vest­ing in a course of un­der­wa­ter scream­ing ther­apy or build­ing a ‘rage room’, Kanye West-style, where I could smash up vases, ce­ramic plates and gar­den gnomes every time I was dis­rupted, mid-ar­ti­cle, and then forced to waste minutes of my ex­is­tence ex­plain­ing to a tele­mar­keter why I ac­tively do not want to save money or go to Dis­ney­land for free. As some­one who does ‘com­bat­ive’ very poorly, I would hear my voice go from shrill to hys­ter­i­cal before even­tu­ally hit­ting a pitch only au­di­ble to bats, and spend the rest of the day feel­ing drained.

There was some back and forth about var­i­ous meth­ods of deal­ing with cold callers – putting a hun­gry/teething in­fant on the line, shout­ing ‘Oh no, the lit­tle be­ings with the furry teeth are back!’ into the re­ceiver and wait­ing for them to hang up, or do­ing a Jerry Se­in­feld and say­ing, ‘I can’t talk right now but why don’t you give me your home phone num­ber and I’ll call you later tonight?’ – before some­one men­tioned the ro­bot.

Roger was in­vented by an Amer­i­can su­per­hero named Roger An­der­son, who be­came so in­censed by tele­mar­keters that he de­vised a cy­borg who un­der­stands speech pat­terns and in­fec­tions and will do his ut­most to keep the cold caller on the line un­til he or she has to be taken away, strapped to a gur­ney with a bite-block be­tween the teeth. All I have to do when a small­claims ad­vi­sor bursts into my world is press ‘add call’ on my phone, dial Roger’s num­ber (now saved on every de­vice I own) and let him take over. ‘I just woke up from a nap and I’m re­ally groggy,’ the bot will tell them. ‘Can you go a lit­tle slower?’ As the con­ver­sa­tion pro­gresses, and Roger replies ‘yes’ to every ques­tion, he be­comes more and more ec­cen­tric. ‘Do you drink cofee?’ he asked one news­pa­per-sub­scrip­tion ped­lar, as my hus­band and I high-fved in the back­ground. Then, ‘You sound like some­one I went to high school with.’ One lo­cal es­tate agent was reach­ing the 10-minute mark un­til Roger an­nounced that he had a bee on his arm. ‘Sorry – it’s lit­er­ally crawl­ing up my arm.’ That was the end of the road for her – and the start of some­thing pretty pro­found for Rog and me.

Un­til re­cently, I could never have imag­ined how this un­ri­valled ob­ject of my afec­tions could be im­proved upon. Then I heard about Mr An­der­son’s new project: a cy­borg who – not con­tent with wag­ing war on cold callers – can de­ter and de­feat the robo­callers able to pester up to 10,000 peo­ple a day. And just like that, my fckle heart moved on.

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