Archive for September, 2010

How capitalism destroys the kindness of strangers

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

How many of you have pulled up into a commercial car park and had a departing stranger offer you a valid ticket with some time remaining on it? I have had many such occasions, and each time it happens, I thank the stranger profusely, silently promise myself that I will pass the favour on whenever the opportunity arises and feel good about humanity for the rest of the day.

The car park attendants (or the owners) see these moments of kindness, and curse. What they see, is lost profit. Not profits that they are entitled to, but additional profits that could be grasped from generous, unselfish people.

The ticket has been paid for and a time allowed for a car to park in the area. If you misjudge your stay, the excess time is lost and the car park owners profit from your misjudgement or, you can donate the time to someone else who needs it. Note, how it never works the other way around, if you overstay by a few minutes, you are fined.

The passing on of a valid ticket made both giver and recipient feel good. So what does capitalism do? Now, the ticket machine requires you to type in part of your car registration so that the ticket cannot be handed over to another motorist. It deliberately prevents the kindness of strangers. Notice also how you, and not the owners, are required to do the extra work to prevent yourself from helping your fellow traveller. This is like the slavers asking you to fasten the chains onto yourself so that you can become their slave, or being told that you have to spill your blood onto your hard earned cash so that machines can check it is your DNA and that only you can spend it in officially approved commercial areas – no handing it out to beggars or people short of a bus fare.

Can we not see where capitalism is dragging us? If we can, why is no-one kicking and screaming? Why has nobody complained about this move? Are we so cowed that we are prepared to accept any new development, designed by big business, to rob us of our humanity?

How can we measure ideas?

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

rule

“We owe almost all of our knowledge not to those who have agreed, but to those who have differed.” Charles Caleb Colton

At a recent speaking engagement, I noticed the evaluation forms neatly distributed around the seats of the room. The audience were to measure my presentation. My immediate and unconscious reaction was, ‘I hope they like me.’*

But then I started to think…

What are they measuring? The fact that the forms were neatly laid out and had exactly the same questions on them, spoke volumes about how we view our society and how it should be run. They could only be measuring a narrow band of data from the entire experience of hearing me speak. Who decides if that narrow band is the ‘best’ one to measure?

Should I have studied the evaluation form and then attempted to modify my message in whatever way I could, so that I could score more highly in the areas the client seems interested in? If I am a professional speaker, it makes sense to please the client so that they will recommend me to others or even hire me again. To do this, I need to know what the client really wants to hear, and to give them what they want in an attractive package. A high evaluation score would result and I would be pleased.

But should I be pleased?

If I tell them what they want to hear, am I not just confirming prejudices, misconceptions, and false confidences? If you are following my reasoning, you will have noticed that I just made an assumption. How can we be sure if they are prejudices, or misconceptions or false confidences? Well, who is asking the questions that re-examines cherished and long held beliefs? If none of your values and beliefs are challenged, how can you be certain that they are sound?

You can’t.

So what is the job of a professional speaker? If it is to ‘motivate’ the workforce to work harder, research has shown that any kind of attention will do the trick, in which case, forget the expensive speaker and just take the workers out for a meal or provide free massages in their break times. If it is to facilitate change or to improve productivity in the long term, then the speaker will have to address significant aspects of the world views held by the audience members and get them to re-examine them. This can be uncomfortable and challenging. People hate change, even if that change can be of benefit in the long run.

Thus, if a speaker proposes something unpleasant to an audience, how is that going to affect their evaluation score? Does a low score mean more has been achieved? Is a high evaluation score a badge of anodyne blandness, and a lack of originality?

Or is the mark of a truly great speaker, the ability to make the difficult seem desirable, and render any sort of evaluation irrelevant?

* A natural mistake. Being liked, has nothing to do with the job of communicating ideas.

Go Daddy customer support

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

I have an existing account with Go Daddy, the huge, internet provider. I wanted to upgrade it from a standard package to a de-luxe package so that I could put a sub domain on it which would then have a clean url. Straightforward enough.

I telephoned customer services and ordered the upgrade. I was told that I couldn’t do that on the account I had specified because the server it was on was too old to handle the upgrade (hey, I just have the account, it’s your server), but they noticed that I had another account which was on a more recent server and could cope with the upgrade. It was not an ideal outcome for me as I intended to get rid of that other account when its expiry date came up. The operator convinced me it was the easiest route to take, otherwise I would have to do all sorts of complicated tech stuff to accomplish what I originally wanted to do with the preferred account (wait a minute, aren’t YOU the provider?). I was then told it could take 24 to 72 hours to implement the upgrade.

After 72 hours had elapsed, I still couldn’t access the control panel. Another call to customer services revealed that my request had got ’stuck’ and that they would have to re-initiate the request. Again, I was told that this would take up to 24 hours to take effect.

After 24 hours had elapsed, nothing had changed on my account. Another telephone call and another different technical support person put me on hold while he investigated the issue. He returned with news that he had referred the matter to a different technical department, which I inferred, was higher up the food chain. I was told to wait up to 24 hours for a result.

You can tell where this is going, so I won’t bore you with any more details and get to the interesting bit.

After nine days of waiting, I posted a Tweet about the issue, mentioning Go Daddy, and adding a ‘fail’ hash-tag. Almost immediately (well, certainly less than 24 hours) I noticed a tweet with my name on it from Go Daddy.    It read;

GoDaddy @ivortymchak Is there anything I can help with? If you can DM the domain name and details, I’d be happy to look into your issue. ^Cj

I was half expecting this, because any organisation that is on the ball (and especially if they are internet linked) will have somebody monitoring mentions of itself and reporting back to headquarters so that the company can assess if most of it is good or bad. What I wasn’t expecting though, was an offer of help. My thought process explored the ramifications of this move.

Is the offer of help a tacit acceptance that their regular customer support is in some way inadequate? Because if it is, complaining customers might as well turn directly to social media first, rather than their dedicated telephone help-lines.

Do they respond more to customers who are tech savvy? By that, I mean, use social media. Presumably, they would do this because a bad experience with Go Daddy would get communicated to more people via social media and would be read by those people who also had a disproportionate influence with other internet users. This would be a kind of class structure then, first class for social media users and second class for non users.

It reminded me of those investigative television programmes where they take up customers’ issues and get the offending company to rectify the problem before the next broadcast. If you are one of the people featured in the tv programme, great, but if you are one of the many hundreds who aren’t, tough, keep telephoning the useless help-line.

I didn’t use the offer of help from the Go Daddy Tweet in the end. My issue was eventually resolved through the regular telephone support channel (which, in all fairness, was always courteous and well meaning each time I did contact them).

The social media contact from Go Daddy could well have been just a different facet of the same support staff that I had contacted using the telephone, I don’t know. But it is interesting how a well intentioned gesture can produce unexpected outcomes in its perception.

Technology has done me no favours

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

It has been said many times that technology is the saviour of the human race. It has been revered by the consumerist society as the lodestone that guides our direction in society and, ultimately, it will save us from whatever danger threatens; we are technology.

But we are locusts in a buzzing swarm. We admire our empire of things, of numbers; look how big and clever we are. It is axiomatic that the locust swarm is at its biggest immediately before it collapses. We are deluding ourselves that all is well.

Let’s look at the benefits that technology has brought.

It is only in the last two hundred years that technology has benefited a large number of people and that benefit is subject to much interpretation. To the poor workers who inhabited the hell holes of the city, it was of no real benefit, it was the owners of the factories who benefited.

Medicine is often touted as the biggest improvement in our lives. But medicine is predicated on illness. Without ill health we don’t need medicine and evidence suggests that the majority of hunter gatherer societies in the past were incredibly healthy. Once you control the main infectious diseases such as Smallpox, Measles, Tuberculosis and the like, what are you left with? Today’s big killers, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, are all linked to self inflicted poor health. The rest of the modern medicine that Big Pharma trumpets as miracles of technology are remedies for ailments that have been brought on by… modern technology. Is that progress?

So perhaps three generations of the human species have benefited from technology so far. The next generation will be the first to show a negative result in terms of benefits – they will die younger due to affluence. So just three generations have drunk on the fruits of technology and become so addicted to its effects that we cannot live without it. And yet, one day soon, we shall be denied the drug. Technology is not a benediction, it is a curse.

It is my belief that the technological revolution has debased the quality of life. At some stage, the speed of change within technology will overtake our ability to keep up with it (if it hasn’t already). Look what is happening today. If I was a manufacturer of dvd equipment, I wouldn’t be too worried about my machines becoming unreliable after a couple of years. This is because there is a very good chance the equipment will be obsolete in that time and a ‘better’ product will replace it completely. Also, cheaper goods mean that it is not worth repairing faulty goods but simply replacing them.

What is this mentality doing to our culture, lifestyle, outlook and sense of history? At one time, a house builder would have it in the back of their mind that the house they were building had to last at least 100 years. That meant that every item installed into the fabric of the building was evaluated on this basic assumption. The builder would disregard any material that he considered unable to pass this criterion. Today, with turbo charged innovation, a builder, who is used to his electronic equipment becoming obsolete after a couple of years, considers house building in a new light. How long is the house supposed to last? Usually the term of the mortgage, so 25 – 30 years is the new minimum. After that time, building regulations will have moved on so much that houses built today will be considered worthless. Solar panels will have to be built as standard, wind turbines where appropriate, equally so.

The upshot is, that we fill our material lives  with disposable trash, designed to fall apart after a couple of years. Our vision of the future becomes increasingly short sighted. Nobody will want to build anything of quality as regards technological equipment because it simply isn’t worth it. Our culture will suffer too. Everyone will speak in Twitter sentences, art will be maximised for 15 minutes of fame, music will be ‘enhanced’ for a once only listen. Technology is supposed to be our servant, not our master.