I've been pondering what to write my column about this week. We're all recovering from the fallout from the PS3 launch (back, boys, enough with the vitriol), and I'm feeling neither controversial nor particularly angry about technology in general. Blame it on the sunny weather. So, what's a girl to do, but procrastinate. I decided to turn my hand to getting the new Nabaztag/tag up and running, having watched it sit on my desk, eyeing me in the way only a rabbit can do for the past few days.
I got it out the box, started going through the motions, to find that there was no instruction manual. This could all be done over the internet, simply by logging on to their website. Result, I thought. The less paper to create possible fire hazards with the better, in my book. And on I logged. I floated through the first pages, doing everything they asked, grinning to myself as the rabbit's lights turned the colour they predicted. And then. The grinning stopped. I'd followed point 37 of their instructions, and I wasn't getting the right light combo.
What do you do in that position? Chances are, you go back, repeat the previous stages, and try again. Which I did of course, with the same result. So, I did it again. In fact, I spent the next 35 minutes repeating these stages, before I decided to take matters into my own hands.
A spell messing about with the network settings later, and I'd managed to fix it. There's nothing more satisfying I don't think, than sorting out a problem yourself, without once googling 'my computer's f*cked'. So, on I went in my quest to get the rabbit doing what all rabbits do (read emails, play internet radio, sort out your RSS feeds).
No sooner had this happened, than I hit another snag. But this time, it looked terminal. So, I referred to the help section of the website. They had a massive help section, which I faithfully followed. With no result. Or at least, not the desired result.
And here's the thing. Help. It's getting harder and harder to come by. Manufacturers and service providers like to think that there's a Holy Grail out there, which is the Answers Library which successfully answers every single query out there. But there's not. There's a million variables, a million different things that can make something go wrong, and I hardly ever find something that will sort everything out from a website.
In these cases, you want to talk to a person. I've lost faith in 'just drop us a line, and we'll get back to you directly'. The majority of time, I'm convinced my emails end up in some great trash can in the sky, and I'm sure certain companies scan for emails with the words 'not working' and automatically divert them to spam folders. And if you do get a response? It'll probably be along the line of 'Have you tried turning it off at the mains, and then turning it on again?'. Queue an email chain longer than the one about where your group of 20 mates are going to meet on Saturday night.
At this point, you'd like to talk to a person, right? Sadly, people don't exist anymore. Or at least, that's the impression I get from customer services. For instance, eBay (a company facilitating the exchange of millions of pounds every day) has completely got rid of their phone line. If you want help, you have to do it through instant messengering. I've already indicatedmy hatred of all things IM, but this is the limit. It does not work, when you're trying to find where $400 has gone, to be communicating with the company via something designed to keep you updated on your mates lives.
Consumer electronics manufacturers are particularly guilty of this. They assume that anyone buying something involving technology must be so in love with the entire industry that they'd prefer to communicate purely through emails such. But it's not so.
So, I'm starting a campaign to bring back people. I know they're out there. I've seen them on the street, I see them when I shop. I see a lot of them when I commute. They're out there. So, please. Help me bring back the people. And if you know why my Nabaztag is only flashing orange lights, drop me a line and let me know.
Susi is editor of Shiny Shiny, and if she wasn't feeling angry at technology before, she sure is now.