Monday, March 23, 2015



There isn't a day that I as a writer don't marvel at how much easier my life is because of computers. Anyone who has ever written several books on a typewriter, as I have, knows what I am talking about.
But there also isn't a week that I don't curse as my computer balks or freezes or asks me for some unknown password or to search for some baffling icon.
Thank heavens I have three computer-literate sons, and when Mark is here briefly from his Dell job in China, I can turn my computer problems over to him.
Yesterday I was talking to him in Dalian, China, over FaceTime, a wonderful way to keep in touch with your children after we sort out the inevitable problems. This time I couldn't hear him. Mark is a sympathetic helper because he candidly admits he has problems with computers too. And so he gave me advice on my computer problems of the last week.
In case you are feeling superior about this point, I recall a bull session at the cottage where Mark, with a MBA from one of the top business schools in the world, HKUST, and several of his friends, were listening to me rant in the sun over a cold beer about computer mysteries. Every one of them had at least one graduate degree, and one lectured at Princeton. They all said that routinely they had  computer hassles.
In case you are still feeling superior, I recall a head table conversation I had with Gil Amelio, who ran Apple briefly before Steve Jobs, who hated him, returned to the company. Amelio had  patented inventions to go along with his doctorate. Yet he confided as an expert that the computer world should spend more time simplifying and demystifying their devices rather than just building faster slicker new ones.
Remember the old joke about the homeowners who taped over the blinking 12:00 time signal on their  devices because they didn't know how to  dump it or set the real time. Amelio, the CEO  of at least two giant companies that I know of, said he felt that it was more embarrassing to the industry than it was to the failed nerds when they ignored eliminating such a simple problem.
I persevere through my electronic hurdles, however, and mix my happiness at the ease of editing on a computer with my curses when it decides to act illiterate. On my computer, I research through the marvels of Google, order stuff from prescription drugs to a ladder, and do most of my banking and bill paying. I even read my magazines on the iPad when it isn't hiccuping.
But then there comes simple tasks which becomes far more complicated just because corporate giants like Rogers bleed too many workers out of the arteries of their service. On behalf of all frustrated cable customers, and all the jobless who have given up looking even for a minimum job and would like to fill some of these jobs, let me shout from the rooftops that the automated answering snares of North America should have many more humans injected into the process so you don't sit on hold for 10 minutes or wait for a callback or have to play numbers roulette trying to get to the right department.
In the drive to increase the corporate profits, there aren't enough knowledgeable people staffing internet departments. And so the simplest questions and tasks, ones that a real clerk used to solve at a counter in seconds, becomes a gauntlet thanks to all the ultra modern internet tricks that allow you to do it from home....if you have the time and the patience and enough curses to see you through the experience.
  I carried an ancient cell phone only for emergencies. So Mark suggested I use his old Apple smart phone and instead of paying $35 monthly, pay $113 in advance for something like $1 a terse call over many months. (Nice phone if you don't squeeze it. Then it won't work.)
So I called Rogers. Waited seven minutes. Then retreated to a call back. Waited.  Woman didn't understand. Persisted. Switched to another department. Waited. Explained. She offered other plans. Finally my deal was done. Sort of.  I couldn't pay with VISA over the phone. I would have to go to a store. Asked for supervisor to explain why one department wouldn't accept payments for another. Waited 12 minutes. Hung up.
Tried again two days later. And it all happened again. Then I was cut off. (No wonder I love to let Mark deal with the Rogers red-tape empire.)
Tried the next day. This time I almost got all the way to the promised land but I had to go of course to the outlet at Royal York and Bloor to buy the time. Went. Waited 15 minutes. The part-time employee was really helpful but couldn't sell me the cash top up without more info from the call centre. So he called. Then I was put on the phone.  Switched to another department. Put on hold with a promise that if I was cut off again, they would phone the store and have me paged. An eternity on hold, which would only be nice if you were in heaven. Finally it was arranged and the sales chap went to input the PIN number showing the payment but by this point, the phone had died.
Went home, charged the phone,  but couldn't input the PIN number because the recorded voice kept saying I couldn't use it unless I bought time.  Returned to the Rogers outlet. Waited. Guy went into a mysterious closet or something and got the phone to accept the PIN.
Got an email message from Rogers asking if I was satisfied with how my needs were met. You have just got to be kidding. Is there anyone out there who really is satisfied with Bell or Rogers? Just why am I suspicious that Rogers hates this sparse pre-pay plans and would prefer to stick you with monthly fees.
Ah, the myriad wonders of the modern telecom age! Now we have to pay monthly insurance just to ensure that Bell will come inside your house to fix a problem.
The other day, I felt a frisson of joy that I had gone a few months and hadn't had to complain to Rogers about cable service. Did that ever backfire! The next three programs I tried to record on the super duper Rogers equipment recorded all right, it was just I couldn't play them back. So I unplugged the set and waited and plugged it back in and waited and finally I could see the programs.
Just imagine that every time your car didn't work, the first suggestion of the mechanic was to unplug the battery and wait a few minutes and then plug it back in. There would be a revolution if there wasn't a government inquiry. Any kid in any school who screwed up as much as the modern products of the electronic industry would be failed even in this permissive society. Imagine if your fridge malfunctioned as much as your computer. You would be throwing out food monthly.
I have to reboot my computer regularly, and it's less than a year old, and it's fed through a giant company with supposedly 28,000 employees, which includes maybe 100 who know how to fix things, providing you wait from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for them to favour you with their presence.
So in the house there are seven phones, four TVs,  three computers, two copiers and a intercom system (not counting the old versions stuck in crawl spaces or the garage) and most of the time they work, and when they don't, the technical service people and the sons treat me as if I'm the village idiot who is flummoxed at changing a light bulb.
Yet once upon a time, the RCAF gave me a perfect mark in the final test turning on and operating a complicated radar system.and asked me to teach the next course. But all our devices have become much more sophisticated, or so we're told, than the electronics that help win World War Two.
Ain't progress grand, when it doesn't have to be rebooted!

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