There’s Tech Help and Then There’s “Tech Help”

Sometimes I wish somebody would make a new “Do the Right Thing” movie, but this time about computers. Computers and various other techno-wonders that no longer come with any kind of written help, no “Getting Started” handbook with colorful pictures and advice, no “Troubleshooting Guide,” in case you hit the wrong key – yes, that’s what I did – and something happens and you don’t know what the hell happened or how to fix it because you’re afraid if you hit any key at all the damned thing will shut down and then where will you be?

I’m not a computer newbie, but I’ve always had a book that came with my computer to answer questions I might have – with pictures.

If the computer companies want to save money by not printing guides to go with their products, I suggest they find a different way to save – like maybe paying the CEO a few thousand dollars less a month. If they don’t print the guides because it’s just so easy to put the instructions on line, I suggest that every CEO be given an unfamiliar product and directed to the online instructions and not allowed out of his or her office until he or she has mastered the machine by following the so-called instructions. And no coffee breaks, either.

Listen, I used to teach technical writing to graduate engineers and one of our units was on writing instructions that PWKN (People Who Know Nothing) about the product can understand. I introduced this by giving them all (mostly guys at the time) instructions written for people who do all kinds of other things – knit, bake, dance ballet, play a musical instrument, equine dressage, etc. – written for people who were familiar with those skills. They were boggled – what the hell is this “knit purl” business or “down in a plie, up in eleve?” It didn’t take any time at all for these engineers to get the point. But where are they now?

Of course, the tech companies do offer “Help lines” where you can call, push a few buttons to be sure you’re getting to the right general area of the help center warehoused in some place like East Jesus, New Jersey, or on some distant shore, sit on hold for a while and finally be connected with the helper who will make your life better again.

This happened to me only yesterday when I did that very thing – apparently hit a button I didn’t mean to hit and a light came on my keyboard with no identification at all. So after getting nowhere with the online instructions which seemed more like a map of Narnia, I called. I called and I pushed the buttons and I waited and help did finally arrive. Want to hear what her first questions were? “May I have your first and last name?”

Since the traditional first question in customer service is, “How may I help you?” I guessed that only people with names A-L were helped on certain days with M-Z on others. But really, I was not in the mood, so I told her no, she couldn’t have my first or last name. I just wanted an answer to a question about my keyboard – the one her company had manufactured and sent to me with no instructions. She didn’t push the matter and she did give me the help I needed, so I was left to wonder: “Do help operators get to make up questions just to annoy or confuse callers? Would my first and last name be fed into the giant techno-maw where all knowledge and identity now reside, aka The Cloud? Would armed identity cops have arrived at my door had I given made up names? Was she going to send me a note on my birthday?”

I’m not going to think about these questions anymore right now. But I do sometimes wonder how a little girl who happily learned to write stories and poems on a yellow pad with blue lines got to a place where she needed a computer science degree just to get along in the world.

Perhaps I have lived too long, in which case the only person who really needs my first and last name anytime soon will be St. Peter. Please God, don’t let him enter it into a frigging computer!

Why Does My Library Care About My “Activity Feed”?

This morning I realized my own library is complicit (and I’m using that word on purpose) in changing the way we all think of our lives, complicit in the Facebook craziness that’s swept the world. Twitter is not off the hook either, not by a long shot.

I had a notice in my inbox about a couple of books on reserve. They’re now waiting for me at my library. Well and good. Then I saw the message in the middle of the page:

“Get Started – Your activity feed is private. Make public. Create and Contribute.
Write reviews, rate titles, add tags and comments, create lists, and more…”

In other words, turn my library account into another frigging Facebook-style page where apparently droves of other patrons (I doubt that) will want to know what I’m reading, what I think about it, how I rate the books, and any other comments I care to make – kind, intelligent, snarky or otherwise.

I have been a library patron since I got my first card when I was five years old. That’s a very long time. I love libraries…at least the kinds of libraries before I was encouraged to make my activity feed public. I don’t check out X-rated books or anything I’d be embarrassed to have someone know about, but why would the general public care about what I’m reading?

I have reading friends with whom I share notes about books we enjoy or don’t. We actually talk to each other via email or on the phone or over coffee. It’s a far cry from making my “activity feed” (an appalling term in itself) public.

Thanks to Facebook, we have become a world where everybody (theoretically) wants to know and (theoretically) should know everything about us. In addition, thanks to Facebook, everybody (actually) can comment on our lives publicly. People are not just rating books and reading lists – they’re rating human beings, their kids, their cats and dogs, any and everything they post. It’s a back fence bullies paradise.

I’ve mastered a lot of technology over the years because I had to do that for various jobs. I’ve even quite recently done a pretty good job with Windows 10, which I was warned would be a steep learning curve. But I’ll be damned if I’ll make my library “activity feed” public. It’s bad enough getting ads on Google for things I no longer want to buy! Or recommendations from Netflix about movies I’d like.

Algorithms, once the province of mathematicians, have become the big player in our social lives for the sole purpose of generating money for marketers and, of course, Mr. Zuckerberg et al. Merriam-Webster defines algorithm as “a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some end especially by a computer.”

If your problem is getting enough people to the family reunion, and you want to use Facebook to do that, have at it. But keep in mind you’re also accomplishing a different end for the folks who set up the algorithms.

In our family, we just send out emails or call each other and – what do you know? – we all make it to the family picnics.

Facebook – Sacrificing Beauty for Efficiency

In a statement, Facebook called the murder “a horrific crime” and said it does not allow “this kind of content.”

The only possible response to this statement – which came after the Cleveland shooting of an innocent old man was posted by the shooter – is “Yeah, right.”

Yes, I know Facebook pulled it fairly quickly, but by then any number of other people had begun posting it to the Internet. And yes, I know, it’s not possible to wrangle or manage all the sick people of any age who post disgusting, threatening, bullying or otherwise ugly content on Facebook or the Internet.

But Facebook is in a class of its own.

Mark Zuckerberg and all the Facebook users who just want to chat with Aunt Hattie and post cute kitty pictures and advertise their bakeries have to understand that they’re helping make these travesties possible. Facebook has become the National Enquirer of the Internet, the “place to be” if you want instant notoriety and lots and lots of friends.

The desire to instantly connect with many instead of connecting the old-fashioned way one at a time or maybe with your own e-mail list of twenty or thirty real friends has generated a new forum for the ones who want much more than that.

Zuckerberg can say as many times as he wants that Facebook “does not allow this kind of content,” but the truth is that as long as Facebook exists, ugly and dangerous content will go up and will last at least long enough for thousands to watch a young girl get raped, a teen-ager get bullied and commit suicide or a deranged killer shoot a random victim and then brag about it.

There’s no way for Zuckerberg or his crew to stop these things from happening. Facebook users may be able to block what they see personally, but they cannot block what the world sees – or what happens when other users want to post the worst.

Mark Zuckerberg has made truckloads of money from Facebook and some of that money is covered with blood.

Author Tom Robbins once wrote: “People who sacrifice beauty for efficiency get what they deserve.”

Is the efficiency of Facebook, are all those “friends” really worth sacrificing the beauty of real communication? With Facebook, we sure as hell are getting what we deserve for the sacrifice.

It’s Trump’s Party – He’ll Have Chocolate Cake If He Wants To

Apparently Donald Trump didn’t get the memo.

His stonewalling in one area or another are making it clear that Trump has a serious misconception about the government of the United States and his role in it.

Trump is taking one action after another that says “I own this place.”

The truth of it is that the President of the United States, any President of the United States, despite his potential power, remains an employee of the American people. Remains accountable to us, remains the guardian of all that’s best in and for America.

Now of course, all Presidents get to make some choices. We trust that they’ll make good ones. Choices that support the American people, choices that take the high road and not simply serve themselves the best cuts of meat while suggesting the rest of us eat the proverbial cake.

And speaking of cake, Donald Trump has some big lessons to learn in this regard. For a man who claims to have won the election with the support of all the little folks struggling to put food on the table, he spends an inordinate amount of time at his hotsy resort, even going so far as to describe with his tiny hands the big big chocolate cake he had for dessert.

I won’t even ask the question, because I know the answer: No, Donald Trump has no shame. None, zero, zilch. His poor poster-child coal miners and their kids did not have a big big chocolate cake for dessert at Mar-a Lago, but Donald Trump did.

Chocolate cake is not on the same level as taxes, health care or threats of war, you’ll say. And yet it is. That big big chocolate cake is representative of Trump’s sense of privilege and it is his sense of privilege, I fear, that can lead us in all manner of wrong directions simply because he’s the Trump and will feel none of the pain personally.

He owns the place. Perhaps someone can remind him that Richard Nixon thought the same thing.

Is Ivanka’s Broken Heart Our New International Military Strategy?

I’m pretty sick of reading and hearing about how broken-hearted Ivanka Trump was over the toxic gas attack in Syria. And how it was her broken-heartedness that pushed her dad to order a missile strike in retaliation.

Let’s be clear about this. Gas attacks are horrendous. The war in Syria is horrendous. Who among us was not broken-hearted when we saw the photos?

But if “broken-heartedness” is going to be a motivation for strong response to a situation, I have a few questions for the Trump family.

Were any of you broken-hearted over the Sandy Hook shootings five years ago when a kindergarten class was wiped out by one shooter in our own country? Did Ivanka look up from her morning paper with stories and photos of those children and say, “Dad, we have to do something about this”? Did daddy Trump get on the phone with his powerful pals and say, “We need to rein in the NRA and get better gun control in America”?

Are Ivanka and Donald Trump and his Republicans who are lamenting the Syrian tragedy also lamenting the shootings of children in America? Are their hearts broken when they see photos of starving babies in the Sudan caught in ongoing war exacerbated by drought?

Or was the Syrian tragedy just the perfect opportunity for Donald Trump to pull a trigger somewhere, anywhere to make his daughter happy and make a half-assed attempt to get some good press while beating his chest in front of the Chinese leader?  Without a clear strategy behind the missile attack, what else is a person to think?

Before you say “apples and oranges,” let me just say if we cannot be concerned about the deaths of our own children in our own country, what the hell business do we have blowing things up to make a show over the deaths of children anywhere else?

If we are not broken-hearted every time some crazed killer shoots up an American school and we do nothing to change that, what right do we have to be broken-hearted over children thousands of miles away?

As I said, I’m sick of hearing about Ivanka Trump’s broken heart. I don’t give a damn what she says. I want to see what she does and I mean something besides calling daddy to blow up an airfield.

Integrity and true caring don’t come with press packets and photo ops.

If Donald Trump and his daughter want to save the lives of children, here’s some advice: Start here.

I hope to God she is not also “broken-hearted” about the state of things in North Korea.

Operators Are Not Standing By – They’re Plugged Into the Outlets

Does anyone but me feel like a complete idiot talking with a robot? I’m just off the phone from my latest encounter with one of those human-sounding telephone robots who ask you to “tell” them things instead of pushing buttons.

Honestly, I feel more comfortable and more like a human when I’m pushing the buttons.

Those cheery Stepford wife voices give me the creeps. And I know darned well that “the voice” doesn’t understand a damned thing about what I want or need. As long as I use some kind of intelligible words, “the voice” will respond pleasantly enough and I’ll either get what I want or need or I will hang up more frustrated because I’m not speaking to a REAL DAMNED PERSON!

I know what it’s about – I didn’t just fall off the iPad truck. It’s about companies who don’t want to hire real people to answer the calls. Real people who could actually figure out how to help you with your problems. Companies have been sold a bill of goods by the tech world that robots (aka machines) can provide the same kind of customer service provided by flesh and blood people (aka Customer Service reps).

Last week I had a wonderful customer service experience when I called my local AAA office to update my account. Even the music while I was on hold was outstanding. Now that’s what I call service.

A couple of years ago I wrote here about the trick I’d learned to cut through the Perky Patty robot replies and questions. In case you missed it, here it is again.

I was on hold trying to accomplish a very simple task with my health insurance provider. After numerous perky questions that I could tell were not getting me even close to the answer I needed, I hit the sweet spot (or sore spot, depending) and with no warning burst into tears! Let me tell you, there was a live person on the line in a nanosecond. Problem was solved in 30 seconds as it should have been in the first place.

My advice: if you get stuck with Perky Patty or any of her Stepford pals on any call, try weeping. It worked for me.