BEFUDDLE.TXT - Befuddled PC users flood help lines

This article is from the March 1 1994 _Wall Street Journal_, according
to an e-mail I received today:

>    ____________________________________________________________
>    AUSTIN, Texas
>    The exasperated help-line caller said she couldn't get her
>    new Dell computer to turn on. Jay Ablinger, a Dell Computer
>    Corp. technician, made sure the computer was plugged in and
>    then asked the woman what happened when she pushed the power
>    button.
>   "I've pushed and pushed on this foot pedal and nothing
>    happens," the woman replied. "Foot pedal?" the technician
>    asked. "Yes," the woman said, "this little white foot pedal
>    with the on switch." The "foot pedal," it turned out, was
>    the computer's mouse, a hand-operated device that helps to
>    control the computer's operations.
>    Personal-computer makers are discovering that it's still a
>    low-tech world out there. While they are finally having
>    great success selling PCs to households, they now have to
>    deal with people to whom monitors and disk drives are a
>    foreign as another language.
>   "It is rather mystifying to get this nice, beautiful machine
>    and not know anything about it," says Ed Shuler, a
>    technician who helps field consumer calls at Dell's
>    headquarters here. "It's going into unfamiliar territory,"
>    adds Gus Kolias, vice president of customer service and
>    training for Compaq Computer Corp. "People are looking for a
>    comfort level."
>    Only two years ago, most calls to PC help lines came from
>    techies needing help on complex problems. But now, with
>    computer sales to homes exploding as new "multimedia"
>    functions gain mass appeal, PC makers say that as many as
>    70% of their calls come from rank novices. Partly because of
>    the volume of calls, some computer companies have started
>    charging help-line users.
>    The questions are often so basic that they could have been
>    answered by opening the manual that comes with every
>    machine. One woman called Dell's toll-free line to ask how
>    to install batteries in her laptop. When told that the
>    directions were on the first page of the manual, says Steve
>    Smith, Dell director of technical support, the woman replied
>    angrily, "I just paid $2,000 for this damn thing, and I'm
>    not going to read a book."
>    Indeed, it seems that these buyers rarely refer to a manual
>    when a phone is at hand. "If there is a book and a phone and
>    they're side by side, the phone wins time after time," says
>    Craig McQuilkin, manager of service marketing for AST
>    Research, Inc. in Irvine, Calif. "It's a phenomenon of
>    people wanting to talk to people."
>    And do they ever. Compaq's help center in Houston, Texas, is
>    inundated by some 8,000 consumer calls a day, with inquiries
>    like this one related by technician John Wolf: "A frustrated
>    customer called, who said her brand new Contura would not
>    work. She said she had unpacked the unit, plugged it in,
>    opened it up and sat there for 20 minutes waiting for
>    something to happen. When asked what happened when she
>    pressed the power switch, she asked, 'What power switch?'"
>    Seemingly simple computer features baffle some users. So
>    many people have called to ask where the "any" key is when
>   "Press Any Key" flashes on the screen that Compaq is
>    considering changing the command to "Press Return Key."
>    Some people can't figure out the mouse. Tamra Eagle, an AST
>    technical support supervisor, says one customer complained
>    that her mouse was hard to control with the "dust cover" on.
>    The cover turned out to be the plastic bag the mouse was
>    packaged in. Dell technician Wayne Zieschang says one of his
>    customers held the mouse and pointed it at the screen, all
>    the while clicking madly. The customer got no response
>    because the mouse works only if it's moved over a flat
>    surface.
>    Disk drives are another bugaboo. Compaq technician Brent
>    Sullivan says a customer was having trouble reading
>    word-processing files from his old diskettes. After
>    troubleshooting for magnets and heat failed to diagnose the
>    problem, Mr. Sullivan asked what else was being done with
>    the diskette. The customer's response: "I put a label on the
>    diskette, roll it into the typewriter..."
>    At AST, another customer dutifully complied with a
>    technician's request that she send in a copy of a defective
>    floppy disk. A letter from the customer arrived a few days
>    later, along with a Xerox copy of the floppy. And at Dell, a
>    technician advised his customer to put his troubled floppy
>    back in the drive and "close the door." Asking the
>    technician to "hold on," the customer put the phone down and
>    was heard walking over to shut the door to his room. The
>    technician meant the door to his floppy drive.
>    The software inside the computer can be equally befuddling.
>    A Dell customer called to say he couldn't get his computer
>    to fax anything. After 40 minutes of troubleshooting, the
>    technician discovered the man was trying to fax a piece of
>    paper by holding it in front of the monitor screen and
>    hitting the "send" key.
>    Another Dell customer needed help setting up a new program,
>    so Dell technician Gary Rock referred him to the local
>    Egghead. "Yeah, I got me a couple of friends," the customer
>    replied. When told Egghead was a software store, the man
>    said, "Oh! I thought you meant for me to find a couple of
>    geeks."
>    Not realizing how fragile computers can be, some people end
>    up damaging parts beyond repair. A Dell customer called to
>    complain that his keyboard no longer worked. He had cleaned
>    it, he said, filling up his tub with soap and water and
>    soaking his keyboard for a day, and then removing all the
>    keys and washing them individually.
>    Computers make some people paranoid. A Dell technician,
>    Morgan Vergara, says he once calmed a man who became enraged
>    because "his computer had told him he was bad and an
>    invalid." Mr. Vergara patiently explained that the
>    computer's "bad command" and "invalid" responses shouldn't
>    be taken personally.
>    These days PC-help technicians increasingly find themselves
>    taking on the role of amateur psychologists. Mr. Shuler, the
>    Dell technician, who once worked as a psychiatric nurse,
>    says he defused a potential domestic fight by soothingly
>    talking a man through a computer problem after the man had
>    screamed threats at his wife and children in the background.
>    There are also the lonely hearts who seek out human contact,
>    even if it happens to be a computer techie. One man from New
>    Hampshire calls Dell every time he experiences a life
>    crisis. He gets a technician to walk him through some
>    contrived problem with his computer, apparently feeling
>    uplifted by the process.
>   "A lot of people want reassurance," says Mr. Shuler.
>    ____________________________________________________________

Notice how ordinary people are figured in its anecdotes, particularly how
they contrast eminently-competent professionals who "understand" both the
machines and their owners. Typical of _WSJ_ journalist's bias towards
professionals, discrepancies between the experts' understandings of
computers and those of "rank" novices' is figured as an idiocy of amateurs
--not by the (more likely) hypothesis that the increasing complexity and
accelerating obsolescence of PCs (which have proven profitable for
computers-as-"consumer electronics"in the U.S.) have produced a new form
of consumer relations to commodities, one worth serious note.

Now look at the construction of the article: the reporter obviously spoke
with customer service technicians from Dell, AST and Compaq. These people
obviously have a vested interest in normalizing their own understandings
of and relations to this new form of "expert" commodity. There's a
cultural studies essay in the analysis of this text (though damn it, I
don't have time to write it right now).

Ah well,