Far away, in a land that everyone has forgotten, there sits a castle. The castle is large and well fortified and glowers down from the top of a high hill. If you were to be able to observe this castle, (which of course, you cannot, because it is in a land that is far away and no-one remembers quite how to get there), you would notice that very little seems to happen.
However, occasionally, very occasionally, a messenger will arrive. Sometimes the messenger will be travelling in a car or van but is usually on a bicycle as these are considered very practical and reliable in this faraway land. The messenger will wave a flag and the drawbridge is slowly let down. If you had managed to find your way to this sparse territory, and you were still there after about forty minutes or so, you would probably see the messenger leave the castle and speed away into the distance.
Now, being a curious soul, you would no doubt stop and ask one of the very few folk that you met on the way and ask the significance of the castle, its inhabitants and the messenger. Unfortunately the reply would be beguiling. No-one would actually understand what it was that went on in the castle, or who the inhabitants might be. As to the messenger, well, the only piece of information that you could elicit would be that the messenger brought “questions”and took away “answers.” ‘But to what?’ You rightly ask. Nobody knows.
“How dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is, who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to be greater than his nature will allow.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
I spoke last time of the individual’s lack of control over the technology that both surrounds us and, it would appear, supports our daily lives. In comparison to the Industrial Revolution that Mary Shelley was critiquing through the pages of her novel ‘Frankenstein’ I wondered whether we are really any more progressed than her contemporaries? Unlike them and the advances in engineering and mass production they witnessed, do we have any real idea of how the ‘phones, computers, tablets, netbooks and networks around us actually work?
If we do not have control over our technology, we have lost our power to protect ourselves.
My second reason for our way of life being extremely vulnerable builds on the first. We do not understand what we are using – and we do not have the ability to fix it when it goes wrong. And by ‘we’ I mean everyone. Everyone apart from the folk in the castle, that is.
But things have always broken, jammed, stopped working, been misused, been dropped, been bent, soaked, left un-oiled, un-loved, over-worked and essentially mistreated. Surely it is exaggerating to assert that because my mobile ‘phone sometimes just ‘resets’ itself, or because my printer becomes jammed, or because my laptop suddenly refuses to recognise the network it was attached to just yesterday, our modern world is in any inherent danger of collapse?
A few years ago I would have agreed with you. I would have agreed with you because for every item that malfunctioned there was a level of support available to get it fixed. (I would say that there are roughly 3 levels of service ranging from the consumers first point of call to the expert.)
Unfortunately for us, none of these levels of service work any more.
A Printers Tale
Oh dear. The printer won’t print black. That’s o.k. Revert to Service Level 1 – basic maintenance, via the computer of course, and perform all three maintenance functions. Repeatedly. Nothing. Turn to the wider net. Has anyone else had this problem? Yes, online. Clean printhead with steam. With alcohol. With kettles and kitchen paper and meaningfully practical advice. Nothing. Turn to Service Level 2 – the named person. Printers R Us, or the local computer ‘repair’ shop. Advice? Change cartridges or new printhead. But the cartridges weren’t empty. Never mind, buy more. O.k. Nothing. New printhead then, definitely. Purchase said replacement. Replace cartridges. Nothing. Resort to Service Level 3 – the expert. Send printer away. Answer? Buy a new one. No. Have a replacement on us. No. Fix my printer….we can’t.
I could write this story over and over for every technological appliance in my house. Sometimes, of course, you get lucky, and Service Level 1 brings a solution. (Usually turn off – count to ten – turn on again.) Sometimes even Service Level 2 works. (Witness the lady in the ‘phone shop who spotted that little button on my settings that needed turning to ‘on’.) But what worries me is that most of the time Service Level 2 means either replace the whole thing or “Well, it really could be anything then.”
How many times have I sat there and watched as Service Level 2 person does all the things that I have done – all over again! The ‘computer call out engineer’ just unplugs, re-plugs, looks at files, re-boots, re-connects and finally brings in a new router because the last one ‘didn’t like something on your computer”.
Has he fixed my problem? No, he’s just manouvered me around it.
Let us return to a humbler world. Plumbing. My shower won’t work. Service Level 1 – I make sure the hot water controls are working, I check the thermostat. I check the other taps are piping hot. I note that the shower pump is not whirring. I turn to Service Level 2 – the plumber.
I happily witness that he does not run around doing all the things that I did. That’s why I called him out – I had reached the end of what I could do. He has heard of this before – he has expertise. He conducts a methodical series of tests which isolate the non-functioning part. He can repair it for me but admits that in dislodging the part it may not be resealable. An alternative is to replace the unit in question, or, if I’m feeling flush (pun intended) the whole pump.
What a difference!
Somewhere in the world, or at worst a lonely castle in a faraway land, I believe there are a few people who really do understand how our technology works. The trouble is that they are nowhere near the rest of us. We have been duped into being saddled with whole tiers of ‘support’ and ‘supply’ that actually know absolutely nothing about the things they are peddling.
And that worries me because when the system really crashes, who on earth are we actually going to turn to?
Will we go to the people in the computer shops? Will we go to the IT engineers? If the mobile ‘phone network stopped tommorrow would the people at the call-centre or the shop in the high – street – or even the heads of the company know why? Or how to fix it?
I could go on but I’m so confident that we are all victims of this Conspiracy of Stupidity that I will just leave you with a series of questions to ask yourself:
- When was the last time that a piece of technology suddenly stopped working, re-set itself or changed its settings overnight?
- When was the last time you went to get help from an IT servicer and they immediately knew what your problem was?
- Has there ever been a time when you have fixed a fault in your computer/’Phone/tablet yourself? (If yes, be honest, how major a ‘fault’ was it?)
- How many times have you watched the ‘experts’ just re-doing all the steps you’ve tried, or been told to try on-line?
- How many times have you had to replace a part rather than repair it?
- Think of the ICT in your home. How many of these devices or systems experience problems that you were not warned to expect?
- When they ‘send your computer away for repair’ where does it go?
- …quite simply, how many times have you felt that the person you are talking to, at Service Level 1,2 or 3, doesn’t really have a clue about your problem.
Next time I’ll consider how the simple problem of printing some paper belies the end of the world as we know it.
A timely p.s.
Having finished the script above, my habit is to put some pictures into the post. I have clicked all the usual buttons but today, 12:13, BST, the computer doesn’t want to perform this function. I have no idea why not, or how to make it happen. It did it this morning for Frankenstein but not now.
I rest my case.
- The Frankenstein Effect (rattledrum.wordpress.com)