Tom Clyde: Tech support for Christmas
Like millions of Americans, I spent Christmas with tech support. In a world where most people are never more than inches away from their smartphones, I’ve been relying mostly on a combination of smoke signals and carrier pigeons. It was time to upgrade. There is an expectation that people will have a cell phone now. People assume they can reach you more efficiently than leaving a message on the recorder. Because there is no cell service at my house, I rely on the landline there. I have a very old cell phone, but because it doesn’t work at home, I tell people not to call it. Call the house instead. I’m not in the house much, so I don’t answer the landline. The result is that whichever number people call, I’m not there. Reaching me with a phone call is slightly faster than mailing a letter, but not much.
Mine may have been the last rotary-dial cell phone in service. Between the lack of service coverage, and a screen that is too small to read, it really became useless. I might as well have carried a small rock. It served its purpose when new, but that was a long time ago. Now it mostly sits in the car in case I get lucky enough to slide off the road in one of the few hot spots along the way. My calling plan allowed up to 18 minutes a month. I never used it.
A neighbor who needs to be in contact for his job found a solution. He installed a microcell system in his house. I don’t understand the technology of it, but somehow, it gets his phone calls to come and go over the Internet instead of from the cell. He says he makes phone calls from his computer. That’s like making toast with a cordless drill. I didn’t believe it. But even my worthless old flip-phone gets reception on his front porch. Walking half a mile to make a call has some practical issues, but if somebody called me on the cell number, and I happened to be walking the dogs past that house, well, we would connect.
So I took the plunge and set up a similar system at my house. It seemed so easy when I talked to the guy in the store. Take it home, plug it in, and welcome to the 21st century. Of course it’s never that simple. Just getting the right kinds of cords and finding the right kind of socket to plug into on my existing stuff was tricky. Turns out I needed a new router with a place to plug the microcell into it. The new router wanted new software, which I couldn’t download because the Internet connection was through the new router.
So off to tech support. I’ve got to hand it to the Apple people. I was on the line for over an hour with one rep, who finally determined that he had coached me through everything he could do, and that I needed to talk to the Internet service provider. The woman at the Internet company walked me through a series of things, and then passed me back to Apple. The iPad would now connect to the internet, but the computer would not. Back to Apple, where a different tech guy took me eight menus deep to adjust one setting. It worked. If only we had done that hours ago
Tech support may be the toughest job there is. They are dealing with millions of unique combinations of hardware on people’s desks, with dozens of versions of software. They are helping people like me who are practically Amish. "Did you plug the router in?" "Is the switch turned on?" "Is there a 10-year-old in the house I can talk to?" Nobody calls tech support because they are having a great day. The top-left button on his screen was green; on mine it was blue. My menus didn’t always match his. It’s the kind of situation where mutual frustration could easily turn ugly. I’d hit the wrong key and have to start the sequence over again. None of them lost their cool. They patiently stuck with it until it all worked, and then bravely went on to the next caller.
So a big thanks to the tech support people at Apple and Allwest. Sorry you had to work on the holiday. It’s a great reminder of how much we rely on others. The FedEx driver got my stuff to me a day sooner than scheduled. The roads had been plowed. Stuff just works because people do their jobs. We depend on each other.
I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, and thanks for your interest and support after all these years.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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