The failed promise of technical services

I don't know what Thoreau actually had in mind, never having read Walden Pond. I've tried several times but found it dull. But from the many clichés I have heard about Thoreau and his pond, I gather that he wanted to get away from it all. Escape from the hubbub of the civilized world. Now, you would have thought there was far less hubbub in Thoreau's time -- no cars, no television, no Internet. But the point is,

I don't know what Thoreau actually had in mind, never having read Walden Pond. I've tried several times but found it dull. But from the many clichés I have heard about Thoreau and his pond, I gather that he wanted to get away from it all. Escape from the hubbub of the civilized world.

Now, you would have thought there was far less hubbub in Thoreau's time -- no cars, no television, no Internet. But the point is, we all need a rest from the world, a little quiet time.

I bring this up not only to speak for the millions who need to find peace from having to worry whether their cable or DSL connection is the fastest on offer, but also to help those, including myself, who are continually ticked off by anything less than perfection in the quality of the high-tech services and products they are paying for.

After all, sometimes the entity trying to get away is your service provider -- and the rest they seek is from delivering you the services it has promised.

In futile search of perfection

I recently bought a house in Vermont, and between problems with everything from broadband connections, VoIP service, Comcast On Demand -- which I still don't get and which the company still claims is not its fault -- to problems with the 40-year-old in-ground pool that came with the property -- let me tell you it is difficult to get away from it all.

I did get a letter from AT&T telling me they wanted to get away from me, though. Despite the ads in which they say they are a nationwide cellular service, it seems Vermont doesn't count.

Vermont is too far afield even for their far-flung national network.

I suppose if I really wanted to get away from cellular phones, DSL, and the World Wide Web, I could camp out. But knowing my personality, I'd probably spend a fortune on tents, knapsacks, GPS systems, flares, and bear repellent -- in other words, insulate myself with technology. Probably not what Thoreau had in mind.

Yet that doesn't keep service providers from promising the means to find a little peace away from the world while remaining connected to the world on your terms with the aid of their service and technology.

The awful truth

Perhaps the real crux is less about technology than it is about our attitude toward it. Technology and its marketing establish a belief system that is set up to frustrate us -- one that promises what we hope technology will deliver, instead of the true impact technology has on our lives.

The horrible truth is that the promise of technology suckers us into a trap that the technology itself can never deliver. Once we've taken the bait, we discover that technology basically does not work as promised. But we refuse to recognize that fact. We think we either bought the wrong model -- despite rereading Consumer Reports 32 times -- or did something wrong.

But in actuality, technology -- whether it is a Diatomaceous Earth pool filter, a series of AT&T cell towers, or an enterprise application -- these things were never really designed to be perfect.

If you ever get trapped in an elevator with a technician, from any field, I guarantee you if you pester him or her with enough questions about the technology they work on, you will at some point get them to admit they just don't know. There's a dark space between the way technology should work and the way it does work and it will never be 100 percent right.

This dark space is understandable, and is even something we can learn to live with peacefully, but it creates serious problems when services are involved.

Selling the promise of service on the promise of technology is tricky business. With each promise, accountability for customer frustration grows. And with frustration grows the likelihood that your customers will seek to get away from it all.

Service providers, take heed, lest failed promises drive your customers to find their own Walden.

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