This piece was published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on March 31, 2007.
After six weeks of trouble with our computers, my husband and I have decided to quit our jobs, sell the house and all our belongings and move to a deserted island in the South Pacific, where we will live on coconuts and fish and never see or touch another piece of technology.
It’s not so much trying to use new technology, although the image of a child being able to use a computer, much to the amazement of her grizzled old grandma, is a pretty well entrenched stereotype. The problem is tech support – AKA customer service.
Customer service died shortly before the advent of our age of technology. I believe that the people who work for companies that sell products that “support” our computers, aren’t even aware of the concept of customer service.
I paid about $50 for a CD that I can install on my computer to protect it from spyware. As the technology gets more sophisticated, so do the crooks, trouble-makers and people who buy information about us in order to sell us stuff, thus requiring us to constantly buy ‘upgrades.” There was no phone number for tech support on the package of my spyware protector.
The only link to the people who created and sold the product was a web site and we all know what happens on a web site. You get shuttled to the FAQ section where you are required to sift through hundreds of irrelevant questions, many of which are written so you can’t understand enough to even know if that is your question.
The reason why people like me get frustrated with computer technology is because we grew up in a world where people who sold things to us were available to answer questions, explain the features, and provide customer service.
That is why we get frustrated when we install software and it doesn’t go right. We call tech support, if we can find the number, and then we get a recorded message that directs us to a menu of selections that almost never match our question. It used to be, if you got desperate, you could hit zero and talk to a live human, but that is getting rare. These days, after you follow the menu to a dead end, the computerized voice says, “goodbye.”
I believe that those of us who are considered “old” and not able to comprehend technology, have been given a bad rap. Apparently, we have the outdated notion that a person who sells us a product will provide a minimum of direction in its use.
When we can’t get our basic problems resolved, which are usually quite simple to fix, we get frustrated and give up. Then we get called “old” and it makes us defensive. This could be solved with tech support that answered promptly, was free of charge (at least for 30 days), and was manned by a human being.
If we brought back customer service, this problem could be solved, but I doubt that will happen. Customer service went the way of men’s hats, ladies stockings, and tire swings. Customer service died when the magic words: “please” and “thank you” went out of style. It died when people stopped dressing for church and adolescent girls began to dress like prostitutes, and boys wore baggy pants that dropped below their butts.
Technology has widened the generation gap, and it is as sharply focused as the snap shot taken on a cell phone. People are getting caught at inopportune moments, further eroding any sense of dignity and privacy. Reality TV shows specialize in showing people at their worst, or most vulnerable, apparently for viewers enjoyment.
Most of us old fogies will soldier on, figure out the computers, and keep up with generations X, Y, and Z. My dad got his first computer at age seventy and figured it out, but he did pay the neighbor kid to help him. In his lifetime, he drove a Model T to high school and ended up, sixty years later, with a Lincoln Town Car. I can recall test patterns (for the X, Y and Z’ers that means no programs were on) on TV. The first calculators cost $100 and did only basic math. The first computers used punch cards and filled a room.
Customer service is yet another memory that will fade over time. When I call 4-1-1, the robotic voice, usually female, is pleasant and polite. Future generations won’t know any better and will think the computer-generated voice really cares. Then customer service will make a comeback, just like the good old days.
Kathleen Vallee Stein