Friday, February 17, 2012

The troubles that come with technology

Tommy Jordan, a man living about 20 miles away from me in Albermarle, N.C., shot his daughter's laptop with his .45 last week.

From what I can tell he and his daughter need to sit down and have a talk about a few things, but I have to admit, when I saw what he did, I could completely understand his frustration.

I don't have a teenage daughter who complains to her friends on Facebook about her parents, but there's been more than once recently that I've been compelled to take out my anger on my laptop. Just smash it to bits.

See, I've been faced with the annoying fact that technology, as great as it can be, is now becoming a fallback, an excuse and an enemy to watch out for.

Example #1
I was applying for a job at a restaurant near my apartment. I figured I’d be able to apply online or a .PDF would be available to print and fill out.

The website was being re-designed, region by region, so North Carolina residents weren’t able to apply – at least that’s what the message on the website said.

I go to the store, resume in hand, and ask them if they had an application I could fill out. “Actually, sir, you can go online and apply."

“Oh, I already tried that but the online applications weren’t available to North Carolina residents yet,” I responded. “I guess they’re re-designing the website.”

“Uh huh,” the server said, grabbing a business card. “This will have all the information you need with the exact site to go to.”

“Oh. Okay. Thanks!”

I get home and what is on the card? That’s the exact site to go to? This is all the information I need?

I went to the website and saw the same message, but I tried to apply anyway.

The application process worked, despite telling me it wouldn’t, and, 75 multiple choice personality trait questions later, my resume was submitted.

A failed attempt at filling out an application and an extra trip to the mall. That's what I get for following instructions on the company's website.

Example #2 - Phone prompts
I recently cancelled my cable TV subscription. When I called to do so I was given the usual telephone prompt. First it mentions the website and how I should go there first for any questions I may have. Thirty seconds later I’m asked to enter my account number. I do that, but, after putting in my time on hold, what do you think the first question the customer service rep. asks me? “May I get your telephone or account number?”

Why do I have to enter it if you’re going to ask me for it anyway?

It’s something very miniscule, yet extremely frustrating because it’s a completely and entirely pointless waste of time.

Example #3 - Taxes
I finished filing my taxes last week. It’s my first year in North Carolina, so I wasn’t sure exactly how to do it. I was hoping the state offered a free online service to file them. I checked out the Dept. of Revenue website and saw that there was a list of free or low-cost filing options.

H&R block was the first website on the list, so I clicked on the link and it took me to the H&R Block website.

“You may also qualify for FREE State filing from H&R Block if you lived or claimed income in the following states: AL, AZ, AR, GA, ID, IN, IA, KY, MI, MS, MN, MO, NY, NC, ND, OK, OR, RI, SC, VA, VT, WV.

State Free File programs. Learn More.”

I click on the "Learn More" link and where does it take me? Back to the NC Dept. of Revenue website, of course!

First I called my local H&R Block to find out if I could indeed file my state taxes for free. The receptionist said, “I’m being told in the office that you can file them for free online.”

Having no luck finding the way to do that I called the NC Dept. of Revenue customer service number. Surely they’d have an answer for me.

The answer I got from the customer service representative was to go online to the website because there’s an entire list of free or low-cost options. After explaining to her that I already went there, she paused and then replied, “The website will tell you how to do it step-by-step.”

I shelled out the $30 to have H&R Block file my taxes in the office. It was worth my sanity.

When I'm not entering information that I have to repeat to a customer service representative, it seems that, more often than not these days, I run into the same answers again and again. “Go to the website. All the information is there.”

Unfortunately it isn’t. Broken links, confusing verbiage and too much information crammed onto one page make those oh-so-self-sufficient websites not so self-sufficient. What do the companies care though? They don’t have to pay as many customer service reps because the website is their main resource. If people have to hold for 10 minutes to talk to a real person, so be it. If they don’t want to hold they’ll hang up and the company won’t have to deal with them.

The only price is the customer’s sanity.

I just hope they give me one of the nice padded rooms when I'm admitted.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A little bit of Help

I finally watched The Help. When my 29-year-old male cousin, who doesn't like anything close to a romantic comedy, is recommending the movie, then I guess it’s high time I watch it.

I didn’t know much about the plot going into the movie. Actually, I suppose I should have connected the dots. A story about the help, featuring two black women and a writer in the South? I definitely should’ve realized ahead of time that this movie was set in the 1960s and would cover a few race issues. I didn’t though.

That’s usually the way I like to watch movies – without knowing the main story line. I like to be enticed enough by the preview to want to watch it, but, beyond that, let the movie tell the story. I hate those previews that give away the entire movie. What’s the point in watching the actual movie at that point?

Anyway, back to The Help. I remember the previews looking pretty decent. Turns out the movie was more than decent. It was a very good movie. The rave reviews are, perhaps, a little blown out of proportion, but I wouldn’t have an issue if the cast did very well at the Academy Awards this year.

The Help was a dramatic movie about the very serious topic of the civil rights movement, but, oddly enough, that didn’t affect the comedy. There were still plenty of laughs throughout the entire film. I suppose it does still fit best into the ‘Drama’ category, but it mixes in a little romance with a lot of comedy too.

The plot of the movie didn’t leave me astounded, but the way comedy was infused with drama left me very impressed. One minute you were laughing along with Celia Foote (played by Jessica Chastain). Then you are completely silent, overcome by the pain Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) expresses. Throughout the film you’re cheering along Skeeter (Emma Stone) to break down those racial barriers and bring some 22nd century into the 1960s.

When I realized this was a film about the civil rights movement, I was curious. I’d learned about the topic since I was in grade school, so I wanted to see what this movie could tell me about the 1960s that I didn’t already know. It didn’t fail in doing just that, giving me a glimpse into the daily lives and challenges of the maids, housekeepers and nannies of that time period. These characters showed me the kind of challenges that real people had probably faced in the '60s -- challenges I hadn't even considered before.

If you haven't seen The Help yet, I'd suggest you do. It’s a well-written story and superbly acted movie that will take you through an arc of emotion, leaving you very satisfied and, maybe, a little wiser too.