Over promise, under deliver

If one could rely upon the “puffery” of retailers we’d have no complaint with their products or services. Sorrily we can’t and we do. The emerging theme is that almost anything related to technology is fraught with towering promise and corresponding disillusionment. Unfortunately the battle ground for customer dollars is cluttered with so many companies and options that anything approaching uniformity is a distant dream. I am reminded of the struggle which formerly existed between VHS and Betamax, the “Video Format War”.

The videotape format war was a period of intense competition or “format war” of incompatible models of consumer-level analog video videocassette and video cassette recorders (VCR) in the late 1970s and the 1980s, mainly involving the Betamax and Video Home System (VHS) formats. VHS ultimately emerged as the preeminent format.

The modern rendition of the Video Format War is the interminable skirmishes peculiar to competitive technological applications for desktop computers, laptop computers, tablets, “Smart” phones, wrist phones, exercise monitors, fitness bracelets, music downloads, portable sound systems, video games and accessories.


Common to most of those applications is either internet, Wi-Fi, Satellite connectivity or GPS (the so-called “information highways” that are to the technology industry what banks and insurance companies are to the financial sector). I have yet to hear of any technology company providing any one of those services which hasn’t been regularly maligned by a dissatisfied customer (and I hasten to add the same applies to banks and insurance companies).  I have concluded as a result that it never pays to “jump ship” to another so-called “provider” because it is only a question of time before it too disappoints. Oddly the front-line stewards of these incredibly complicated systems are people who either speak any language other than English or who frequently (though not always) come across as totally despondent about their employment or haven’t any capacity to grasp any detail other than what appears on a screen before their eyes.  It is the equivalent of asking a security guard at a hospital about one’s upcoming surgery.

Inevitably when the technology fails the immediate response of these low-level agents is that you must be doing something wrong.  The presumption is that you have disrupted the system. Eventually the tiresome remedy is a reboot, or (in the case of automobiles) open and close the doors and wait three minutes, send a re-activation request on-line, or call back and try to get someone who speaks English in the technical department.  It is of course assured that the cheaper the service, the more fraught it will be with insurmountable problems.  Since one must of course persist in the attempt to perfect the service, it is often a quotient of time (not intelligence, insight or diagnosis) which corrects the patent defect. When that happens one is normally so relieved to be absolved of any further need to contact the provider that one simply lets it go without all the anticipated repercussions (like canceling the account, destroying the device or throwing oneself off the local bridge).

I have discovered that there is often a secret metabolism to these services, a hidden and effectively nefarious activity manipulated by persons-unseen.  The people who are hired to fence customer complaints have no knowledge whatsoever about these undercover activities (which are admittedly designed to make the system work but are strangely never acknowledged).  The best the staffers can do is stall the customer until the “updates” or “patches” or “restorations” take effect, by which time nobody knows what was done or how it got fixed. So it comes off as magic.

This lack of transparency in what is often integral to one’s daily activities is understandably attended by exponential agitation even though the retailer views the dilemma as about as moving as a whale eating plankton.  It is possible that a monthly supply of Q-Tips costs the same as the monthly service in question, not exactly a ball-cracker!

Many of us have developed a nexus with our devices which is synonymous with an arterial vein; and the moment we become disconnected we rapidly wither. One need only imagine requiring the average teenager to shut off his or her iPhone for a day. And many “adults” would suffer the same deprivation. We’re linked as a society to those mysterious services which not so long ago could only be accomplished in person at a bank, office or library. The vast customer base has succeeded only to popularize the devices upon which we now rely. But built into that affordability is a serious dilution of quality.  Certainly when everything’s working it’s terrific.  But when it isn’t it’s Hell. Our patience has diminished commensurately as the accessibility has risen. The accommodation of failure and disruption has not kept pace with the promise of the moon.  We risk developing a neurosis from the lapse of perfection.