9/15/2016

On being … unimaginable


By Ingrid Sapona

I sometimes buy on-line vouchers/coupons from Groupon and other such sites. Though many of you probably know what a Groupon is, for those who don’t (like my Mom), here’s a brief explanation. Groupon’s an on-line service where merchants offer special deals on their products or services. To get the deal, you buy the Groupon voucher, which you then redeem with the merchant. WagJag is another voucher/coupon service we have here in Canada and it works the same way.  

I tend to buy Groupon and WagJag vouchers for restaurants I like or that I’m interested in trying, and for things like oil changes and sometimes tickets to shows. I don’t buy many vouchers, but they send out emails to entice you, and I will confess to breezing through the e-mails frequently, to see what’s on offer.

Last week an email from WagJag advertised tickets to see Trevor Noah’s stand-up act. Out of curiosity, I clicked through to the website to find out about the deal. As I was scrolling around, I noticed they were also offering tickets to see comedian Amy Schumer, so I clicked on that first.

A number of things about the deal surprised me. Besides finding it odd that she’s playing a huge sports arena, I was surprised when I saw the price. The tickets ranged from $70 to over $600. (Actually, the highest price was over $950, but that wasn’t for just the show – it included a limo and dinner, though there was no indication that Amy would be at the dinner, which you’d hope at that price!) Oh, and for some reason, though the shows are here in Toronto, all the prices are in US dollars, which means we can add an exchange premium of at least 25%.

Out of curiosity, I then checked the price on Trevor Noah’s show. He’s playing a smaller venue (nicer, I think, for a stand-up act), but tickets to see him aren’t exactly cheap either. They range from US $84 to US $613. Now, I like Trevor Noah quite a lot, but at those prices, I’ll have to settle for enjoying him four nights a week on the Daily Show.

You know, WagJag claims to be “an online deal community where Canadians and their families can find great savings on things they need and love…”. So those ticket prices are supposedly a savings! I guess I had NO idea comedians command such prices. Clearly I’m woefully out-of-touch.

A few days later, another ticket offer caught my eye on WagJag – tickets to Adele in October. I know Adele is hugely popular – so popular, in fact, that she’s playing four nights here. Naturally, I was quite curious to see what her tickets are going for, and so I clicked on the deal.

Well, my first reaction was that there was a misprint. There had to be. There was no way the high price was over $8,800. Thinking I was misreading a comma for a period, I clicked to make the font bigger. To my shock, it really was a comma. Oh – and in case you’re wondering – no dinner or limo included – just the show. In fact, $8,800 isn’t even the all-in price – there’s an additional $1,100 in fees on top of that. Did I mention that all those amounts are in US dollars and they are PER TICKET!

There was also a disclaimer-like notice for each of these offers to let buyers know that the offeror is a “resale marketplace, not the ticket seller”. For what it’s worth, apparently you also get a “200% worry-free guarantee”… I guess that’s the difference between the WagJag tickets on offer and those you buy from a common scalper.

Normally when I hear about something I can’t afford, I may think about it for a couple minutes – maybe dream about buying it when I win the lottery – and then I move on. But not this time. I can’t tell you how many times the past few days I’ve thought about the idea of spending $8,800 for a concert ticket. For the longest time, I just couldn’t get my head around why anyone would pay that kind of money for a concert.

Eventually, however, I figured out what’s really bothering me. It’s not about Adele at all. It’s not even about wondering who has the kind of disposable income that allows them to spend thousands of dollars for two hours of entertainment. What I’ve really been hung up on is that I lack the imagination to think of anything I’d find so entertaining that I’d be willing to spend $8,800 on for two hours.

What would you spend $8,800 on?

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona

8/31/2016

On being … situationally aware?

By Ingrid Sapona

One of the more fun things about writing On being … is finding the right title. Sometimes a couple different titles come to mind. Sometimes the mere addition of a question mark makes all the difference (to me, at least). As you’ll see, this column falls into both those categories.

This past weekend I went on a club cruise to a nearby yacht club. It was a hot day and so before the happy hour festivities, I decided a shower would be nice. Besides the fact that my little boat doesn’t have a shower, it’s environmentally better to use facilities that are connected to the municipal water/sanitation system – in other words, to shower at the club.

So, I with my shampoo, towel, flip-flops, and a change of clothes, I headed to the clubhouse to find the showers. Now, I know that some folks, when they hear “yacht club”, may envision some luxurious, spa-like facility. Well, that’s rarely the case (at least, not with the majority of clubs on Lake Ontario). Instead, what most clubs have is a few shower stalls. In fact, that’s pretty much what this club had. One bonus was that each shower had its own small change area with a couple of hooks for clothes and towels.

As I stepped into the shower, I noticed that the floor was really un-even. As I was lathering up, I looked down and around at the stall itself. It wasn’t a pre-fab stall. It was the kind with the floor and walls all tiled. There was a drain hole in the middle of the stall floor and I thought they probably wanted the floor sloped so the water would flow into the drain. But, it seemed to me that they did a pretty sloppy job and instead, the floor was more un-even than sloping toward the drain.

Anyway, later, as I reached for my conditioner, I looked down and noticed that on my right foot I was wearing one of my dollar store flip-flops that I always wear in public showers. On my left foot, however, I was wearing a sandal. Besides being irritated with myself for showering in one of my favourite sandals, the 1-1/2 inch height difference between the flip-flop and sandal pretty much explained the unevenness!

I had to laugh… There I was – so present to the moment, noticing the contour of the shower stall floor. Not only that, I was so analytical in my assessment of the situation, and so sure of the explanation for it (poor craftsmanship). And yet, I was so wrong!

When I was done showering and doing my best to dry my poor sandal, I thought of other times I’ve had this kind of situational mis-awareness. One of the most memorable happened years ago when I was driving from Buffalo to Cleveland.

It was a trip I had made many times because I went to grad school in Cleveland. About 40 minutes after getting on the NY State Thruway, I saw a sign for a sod farm. As soon as I saw it, I thought, “Gee, isn’t that interesting – there’s a sod farm on the way to Cleveland.” But my thoughts didn’t end there. As it happens, I knew that there’s a sod farm on the way from Buffalo to Rochester. So, when I saw the sign for the sod farm, I reasoned, “Wow, I guess Western New York is pretty fertile – two sod farms. Who knew?”

Ten or so minutes later, I saw a sign for the first Rochester exit. Yup… turns out the sod farm I saw the sign for wasn’t a new one on route west to Cleveland – it was the one that you see when you head east to Rochester. What can I say? I got off at the exit, phoned the friend I was going to see in Cleveland to explain that I’d be late and I made damned sure that when I got back on the Thruway I was headed west!

I wonder, does this kind of acute, albeit not-quite-accurate, situational awareness happen to others? I think it must happen to folks who, like me, want to make sense of things that just don’t seem quite as they should be. Then again, maybe there’s another explanation…

Can’t think of one? Well, here’s a hint: the other title I considered for this column was On being … a dumb blond move.

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona

8/15/2016

On being … a blind spot

By Ingrid Sapona

Last week I was reading Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly. Brown’s a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She does qualitative research using something called grounded theory. I liked the book – and, for the most part – I found the ideas she put forth compelling.

Though I know that may sound like less than a stellar review – it’s really not meant to be lukewarm. You see, the reason I hesitate to gush about the book isn’t so much about the topic or Brown’s ideas. It’s got more to do with a metaphor she uses that drives me crazy. In explaining certain behaviours, she often describes humans as being “hard wired” for … [fill in the blank].  

I know, it’s a pretty common figure of speech – and one of the reasons I think people use it is that it invokes a definitive image. (For me it instantly conjures an image of a delicate – but securely soldered – circuit board.) But, it’s precisely the concreteness of the imagery that gives me pause because it seems to foreclose other explanations for a given behaviour.

Indeed, every time I hear the expression “hard wired” used in a social science context, a voice inside my head mumbles a line from Yentl: Where is it written? For those who don’t remember the movie, it’s about a young Jewish woman who wants to study religion but isn’t allowed to. And, when a bookseller tells Yentl she’s not allowed to read sacred books because they’re for men, she protests by asking: “Where is it written?” The bookseller says it doesn’t matter where it’s written, it’s the law. To that, Yentl responds: “Well, if it’s the law, it must be written somewhere. Perhaps [it’s] in here” (pointing to the book she wasn’t allowed to read). I’ve always loved that line and, though I don’t usually say it aloud, I think of it often. I guess to me it’s a kind of the inquiring mind’s way of saying, “Oh yeah, who says?”

In defense of my reaction, I think Brown’s use of the metaphor was so discordant to me because Brown takes a lot of pride in the fact that her thoughts and conclusions are not simply from her own experience. She really emphasized that her conclusions are based on her qualitative research. But, every time she used the expression, I felt she was trying too hard to convince readers of the scientific validity of her conclusions. Though I do think she’s an astute observer and that her research was far-reaching and methodical, to me, the subjective nature of the inquiry doesn’t really lend itself to such concrete conclusions.  

The first few times Brown used the “hard wired” expression I was so distracted by the mental image and Yentl’s voice in my head demanding definitive proof of the assertion, I felt like simply returning the book to the library. But, instead of quitting, each time I wrestled with my irritation and eventually let it go so I could continue reading. I’m glad I persevered because the book truly does offer lots of valuable insights into human nature in general.

Not only that, about half way through the book I realized my little struggle with her choice of metaphor was also helping me in a most unexpected way. It was helping me see – and overcome – one of my blind spots. This particular one relates to my being too literal. I first realized I’m too literal years ago when I noticed my adverse, knee-jerk reaction to use of the word “absolutely”. Like comedians, literalists tend to believe there are really only two certainties in life: death and taxes.

It took some doing, but I eventually managed to get over what I often thought of as a cavalier use of that very powerful word. Now I get that when most people say “absolutely”, what they’re really doing is trying to convey confidence, rather than certainty. I can live with that…

Blind spots are interesting. Like cars, I think we all have them. Often, however, we don’t recognize them and so they can catch us by surprise and cause us to swerve momentarily. But, once we identify them, we can learn to compensate for them.

So, besides learning about what it means to dare greatly, Brown’s book helped me realize I’m absolutely hard wired to get distracted – sometimes to the point of disbelieving someone – when I feel someone’s chosen their words, or used metaphors, carelessly. But, thanks to this realization, I guess you could say I’ve learned to adjust my mirrors and take a second look so that I can continue along the road to learning, growing, and perhaps even daring greatly.

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona



7/30/2016

On being … in bulk

By Ingrid Sapona

We’ve all heard the adage: cheaper by the dozen. Before sitting down to write today’s column, I decided to look up where it comes from, figuring it’s been around for a looooong time. Apparently, it’s not that old – it comes from the name of a novel published in 1948. In contrast, the idea of 13 making up a baker’s dozen goes back to the Middle Ages when baker’s started including an extra loaf so they wouldn’t be charged with shortchanging buyers by making loaves that weighed less than legally required.* (I thought cheaper by the dozen might have a pedigree like the baker’s dozen, but it doesn’t!)

Cheaper by the dozen came up recently when I was shopping for corn at my local farmer’s market. A friend was coming for a barbeque and, though I thought it might be too early for local corn, it was worth a look. I was delighted when I found two farmers selling what they described as the season’s first.

They were still setting up when I got there, so there was no indication of the price. I went back when they were fully set up. When I got to the table, I heard a gentleman ask the price of the corn. While I expected a price difference depending on how many you bought, I was very surprised when the farmer said $5 for 6 or $7 for 12. From the look on the face of the man who asked, I think he was surprised too!

While I didn’t mind having a couple ears left over for another night, there were only two of us for dinner, so there was no way I could use a dozen. But, $5 for 6 seemed really unfair. When the gentleman who asked the price also hesitated, I asked him if he wanted to split a dozen. Though he was surprised at my suggestion – he quickly agreed. As I handed him $3.50, a farmer within earshot said, “That’s the way to do it!” and another joked, “See how the market brings people together!”

On the way home, though I was pleased at my quick deal with the stranger, I was still irritated at the price difference. The “cheaper by the dozen” phenomenon – and variations of it – come up a lot. I’ve often pondered the rationale – and I have to say, in most circumstances I don’t get it.

I can understand it if the vendor needs to move a big quantity and so they set a low bulk price encourages people to take more. But with the corn that morning, I don’t think that rationale applied. Since it was so early in the season, he didn’t have that many bushels. I doubt he’d have had trouble selling what he brought to the popular market. 

Sometimes I figure they charge more for a smaller amount because there’s added costs involved in providing an unorthodox size. For example, I understand paying more per pound for a wedge of watermelon than for a whole one. In that case, the seller spends time cutting, wrapping, and weighing the cut piece, not to mention they need to be more careful the way they display or store cut pieces because they’re more delicate.

Other times I suspect the discount offered for a large quantity is related to the marginal cost. For example, when a fast food place only charges 30¢ more for an extra large coffee instead of a medium – clearly the incremental cost of the added volume of coffee is low. In other words, the sunk costs are the same on all sizes: the cost of a cup, a lid, and labour to make a cup, etc. So the additional 30¢ only has to cover the cost of a bit of extra coffee, cream, milk, sweetener, and profit.

But there are lots of situations where a healthy price difference just seems discriminatory. The most egregious example is the so-called single supplement that’s often charged to singles joining a tour group. I get that a couple staying in a hotel might spend more on incidentals, and the marginal cost of having a second person in the room is minimal, but why should a solo traveller have to pay more to be in a room alone?

I know that for most folks, the favourable price available when buying in bulk is seen as a bonus. But for those who don’t need the added quantity (for example, because they live alone or don’t have a ton of storage space), such bonuses feel like a penalty. In the scheme of life’s irritants, this might not rank high for some, but it does irk some of us who fly solo…

I don’t know, maybe the solution is to always shop with a friend – someone willing to split the occasional dozen or multi-pack. Actually, maybe I should be looking for a Silicon Valley whiz kid to work with me on an app to bring the sharing economy to those interested in bulk buying!


© 2016 Ingrid Sapona

7/15/2016

On being … game

By Ingrid Sapona

No, today’s column isn’t something ripped from the headlines about Nintendo’s release of Pokémon Go. As it happens, last month I started a column about enjoying old-fashioned games – you know, board games, card games, and the like, that you play with people in person. But, I scrapped the idea then because I figured such games might be passé. But, with this week’s news about Pokémon – and some of the perils encountered by those playing it – I decided that old-fashioned games deserve equal time.

The topic of games was on my mind after friends and I finally got together for a “games night” a few weeks ago. We had been talking about doing so since last fall, but we never managed to find an evening. The topic came up again when we ran into each other in May, but we agreed the odds of us finding time for a game night in the near future was unlikely, as summer weekends inevitably fill up with concerts, barbeques, sailing, and other activities.

Then we had a brilliant idea: since we’re all sailors, why not sail our boats over to a nearby club for an overnight stay and some games. So, we agreed on the date, the destination, what games we’d bring, and who’d bring what for dinner and the next day’s breakfast. 

The weather cooperated and it was great! We did have to laugh, however, when we realized on Sunday morning that we had only played one game. Feeling a bit guilty, we played one more after breakfast, before heading out for our voyages home. On my sail back I couldn’t help smiling and thinking about how the games night was, in large part, an excuse for an afternoon and evening of delicious food, drinking (no one was driving home, after all), and great conversation.

A few days later I was telling this story to another friend (I’ll call her Anne) and we got to talking about the social aspects of playing board games and card games. Growing up we didn’t play that many as a family. But, for the past 20 years or so, games have become a central feature of our family’s holiday get-togethers.

Anne commented on the fact that when her daughter was little, she realized the important socialization skills we learn by playing such games with others. She explained that because the way she and her family interacted while playing games was very different from the way her husband’s family interacted, her daughter learned how to read people and adapt to different styles.

I could totally relate to what she was saying because I know that the way our family plays word games is very different from the way others do. We play them kind of communally. Each person comes up with their own words on their turn, but once they’ve made their play (or if they’re ready to give up in frustration), we all jump in and see if we can rearrange the letters to come up with more points. If we improve the score, the points go to the person whose turn it was. I know, it may seem odd, but this way we’re all sort of invested in each play. I think it helps that we’re all only mildly competitive – so we keep score, but given the way we all contribute on each hand, the winner’s bragging rights don’t amount to much.

Anyway, with the topic of games suddenly in the news, I decided to write about the virtues of getting together for some old fashioned games. Mind you, in singing the praises of such games, I’m not impugning digital games. Heaven knows I’ve passed many an enjoyable few minutes (OK, maybe the odd hour here or there) playing them. But every time I pick up the iPad or sit at the computer and play something, I’m very aware that it’s more time spent alone, rather than in the company of others.

I know, for many folks, the alone time is part of the appeal of digital games. I also realize that there are other benefits to digital games. Some are tools for learning. Some are useful for improving physical dexterity. (Any readers old enough to remember when computer mice were introduced will remember learning to use the mouse by playing solitaire on the computer.) And, Pokémon Go has already been credited with getting folks off the couch and out into their neighborhoods as they chase the Pokémon characters who – thanks to technology called “augmented reality” – magically appear superimposed on the real world on their smart phone screen.

I guess all I really want to say in closing is that if you’re thinking that maybe you’d like to augment your reality a bit this summer – there are alternatives to high tech games. Why not augment the reality of what would otherwise be an ordinary Saturday night by inviting some (real) friends to join you at your table for some old fashioned games? Who knows what laughter,  conversation, and bonding might ensue…

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona



7/01/2016

On being … under delivered

By Ingrid Sapona

When I worked at a big consulting firm, one of the partners had a motto that I strive to live up to in all my work situations: under promise, over deliver. I like that saying because it embodies two separate and equally important aspects of customer service: managing the customer’s expectations to make sure they are reasonable and delivering service that goes beyond what the customer is expecting.

Some businesses manage customer expectations by offering service levels at different prices. Courier companies are the prime example. Courier services quote you a rate to get a package from point A to point B within a given period. But, they also offer to deliver packages faster, for a premium.

Indeed, if you’ve used a courier company like FedEx or DHL recently, you know that many such have honed performance pricing to practically an art form, with options like: standard, two-day, overnight, and even overnight and before a specific time the next day. So, the customer decides what the delivery speed is worth to them, and both parties are clear on the expectation based on the price the customer paid. Clever – almost enviable – business model, right?

Well, earlier this week my sister wanted to send me something. She knew I was going to be at my mother’s house in Buffalo from Wednesday to Thursday afternoon, so she decided to send it to me there, rather than send it to my home here in Toronto.  She paid a premium to have the package delivered between 4 and 8 p.m. on Wednesday. When it didn’t arrive, I phoned her.

She then phoned FedEx. It turns out that the FedEx plane was delayed at her end due to circumstances beyond their control – bad weather. The FedEx plane made it to Buffalo early on Wednesday and so they said the package would be delivered on Thursday. She let FedEx know I was leaving on Thursday early afternoon and they said they’d get it to me before 1.

Well, by 2 p.m. it was not there, so I phoned FedEx. While I was on my second call to them, I saw a FedEx truck pass our house and then turn around a few doors down. The truck then pulled up in front of our house and delivered a package to the neighbor across the street before driving away. Then, five minutes later, our neighbor came over with the package addressed to me. Not only was it nearly 24 hours late, the driver didn’t even seem to care what number he was delivering it to!

I could understand when the package wasn’t delivered on Wednesday because there was a delay due to bad weather. But when they set the expectations so high by charging a hefty premium for delivery within a certain period, they should go out of their way to make sure the package is delivered within their revised promised delivery time (in this case by 1 p.m. Thursday), not to mention that it is delivered to the right address.

I had a similar problem a couple months ago when a client in Buffalo sent me something via DHL. They decided to send it via courier because a few months before that they sent something via ordinary mail and it took a week to get here. Well, despite paying for “overnight delivery”, the DHL envelope took seven days to arrive. When it didn’t show up on day four, I asked the client for the tracking number. In tracking it, I found out that the envelope went from Buffalo to Cincinnati and then to a DHL office in Northern Alberta before being sent to Toronto. Though DHL never explained why it took seven days to get an overnight delivery from Buffalo, it seems odd that they were shipping things via Northern Alberta at that time because it was in the midst of the Fort McMurray wildfires.

As a kid, I used to get my hopes up about things. And, if something I was looking forward to didn’t happen, I was bummed out. I’m sure that happened to everyone. I’m also sure that as we get older, we learn to temper our expectations a bit to avoid disappointment.  But, just because we’re adults, we shouldn’t have to settle for service that’s not what we’ve been promised.

When companies build up our expectations and charge in proportion to their promised service, we shouldn’t have to temper our expectations. Is it too much to ask that businesses – including courier services – make sure their promises are realistic and that they can deliver on them? I don’t think it is…

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona



6/15/2016

On being … silent

By Ingrid Sapona

On being … is meant to be musings on things that happen in everyday life that trigger reactions or behaviours that I think are common, if not universal. As such, other than in the year-end alphabetic review, I don’t write about politics or things going on in the wider world.

So, today’s column probably seems like a departure from what On being… is supposed to be about. While the recent massacre in Florida is weighing heavy on my mind and heart – as I’m sure it is with many readers – strictly speaking, that’s not what I am writing about today. Instead, what I am writing about is the question of why so many people in America don’t even engage in discussion about gun control.

I’ll never forget being at a weekend yoga retreat with friends of friends in New England just a short time after the Sandy Hook shooting. Nearly everyone that attended the retreat had school-age children and so I was quite sure the incident would be a major topic of conversation. And yet, it wasn’t. Indeed, other than my raising it – it didn’t come up at all. Ok, I thought, maybe this is their “weekend away” from it all, or maybe it was too unspeakable a tragedy for them to give voice to it so shortly after it happened. But still, I found it odd that no one talked about it.

Since then I’ve raised gun control as a topic a number of times with American friends, and there just seems to be a total disconnect. The people that want guns are not silent about their “rights”, but people who oppose guns are silent. How can that be, I wonder. Do they not know that silence is essentially assent? Or, do they think that ignoring the issue will make it go away? Or maybe they are scared…

After each of these shootings there’s always lots of talk about hatred – about how the shooters hated this group or that group. While I understand the desire to try to understand what may or may not be motivating shooters, I think the focus on the shooter’s motivation is because the discussion of gun control is taboo in the U.S. While addressing the root causes of hatred, or mental illness, or whatever is behind such incidents is important, these are not things that can be addressed through laws or policy changes. But, preventing people from being able to buy guns and assault weapons is something that can be addressed as a society. Or, to put it another way, we may not be able to do much to prevent hatred, but we can take steps to prevent those with hatred or mental illness from being armed.

I decided to write this column today – no, I feel compelled to write this column – because if you believe, as I do, that U.S. gun laws have to change – you have a duty to talk about the issue, rather than go silent. I have to believe the majority of Americans – like most of us in the rest of the western world – don’t think individuals should have guns and assault weapons. But, so long as the majority remains silent on this issue, each and every person who simply sits back – or who refrains from pressing for gun control – bares some responsibility for such tragedies. So, as I always do, I hope this column makes you consider where you stand on gun control and reminds you of the price of silence.

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona



5/30/2016

On being … unhelpful

By Ingrid Sapona

This past week I switched my internet, TV, and home phone providers. I had pretty basic services but the monthly fee was crazy high and it seemed every other month one of them went up by $2 or $3 – small increments that sure added up over time! So, when a new company began service in my building, I decided to try it.

The internet change was a simple decision – a much faster service at 55% of the price. Based on price alone, going with the new provider for the TV seemed a simple decision too – again, about a 50% savings. But, the personal video recorders (PVRs) used by the new TV doesn’t have the same features as the old PVR. For example, the number of shows you could record at the same time – and the ability to pause live TV. (When it was introduced, I thought it was stupid. But believe me, it’s something I have come to love – it’s like a wireless remote for locking/unlocking the car. Once you have one, you can’t imagine living without it.)

Anyway – as it happened, when they set up my new system, they left the old one in place. It was my job to contact my old service provider to cancel and return their equipment. They were offering the first month of TV free, so I decided to wait a few days before I cancelled my old TV service. I wanted to make sure I was going to like the new PVR. As with all new tech gadgets, I knew there’d be a learning curve, and I was prepared – more-or-less.

The first surprise was how small the PVR is. My old PVR was about the size of a VCR. The new one is tiny – about the size of a 6 oz. steak. And the remote is unbelievably complicated. It clearly was designed by tech geeks – probably a TEAM of tech geeks – and each of them must have come up with a “cool feature” that they included on the remote. (If you think I’m exaggerating, I would only mention that the back of the remote has a full keyboard. Get the picture?)

The technician who installed the system did the initial TV setup for me and quickly showed me the basics. To record you have to insert a jump drive into the PVR. I had a spare one and so we tried it. We got an error message and he thought it was because I had some files on the jump drive. So, the next day I bought a new one and tried it. I got the same error message. I called tech support and explained the recurring problem. The tech support guy was sure he could fix it.

I did as the tech support guy directed, but I got the same message. He asked me to do it again – so I did – but same message. He asked me to do a few other things and I did. (I got the sense he was testing whether I could follow his directions, but I didn’t say anything – I simply did as I was directed. With those steps the PVR and remote behaved as he expected them to.) So then we did the first thing again but got the same error message.

He then asked me to do something with the jump drive at my computer, and I did. But, when we tried the first thing again and got the usual error message, he mumbled “that can’t be”. Clearly he thought I was doing something different from what he said to do, which is why it wasn’t working. We danced around like this a bit more and then he said: “this has never happened before. Never.” At this point, I lost it. I snarkily replied, “Well, congratulations – today is May 7th and you can no longer say the problem I’m running into has NEVER happened. It has NOW!”

No doubt sensing my irritation, he said he’d need to check something and he would call me back in about a half hour, if that was ok. I said it was and we ended our conversation. Four hours later, when I didn’t hear back from him, I phoned tech support again and I asked for him. When I got him, he apologized for not getting back to me and said the best thing to do would be to reset the device to the factory settings and start over. We did and that fixed the problem.

What that solution didn’t fix, however, was the attitude he had. Indeed, that whole “it can’t be working the way you say it is” seems common among guys I’ve dealt with in tech support roles. I get that it must be a frustrating job – dealing with all sorts of issues and all sorts of people with all different levels of computer and tech savvy. But that’s the nature of the job. And what kind of a response is: “that never happens” or “that can’t be”?

When I’m in a charitable mood, I ignore the innuendo that the problem is me or that I’m doing something wrong. Instead, I chalk it up to the fact that they’re young and inexperienced, which is why maybe they do believe that technology NEVER breaks or that tech gadgets don’t malfunction. If that’s the case, they’re in for a surprise.

Meanwhile, I wish companies would realize that to be helpful, a tech support person doesn’t just need technical/product knowledge – they need a bit of humility too.

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona