TCS Daily


Got to Admit,
It's Getting Better

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - March 12, 2003 12:00 AM

To the amusement of computer users everywhere, bar owner George Doughty shot up his laptop and hung it on the wall as a trophy. It seems that it had been giving him problems.

Police were understanding, according to this Associated Press report:


"It's sort of funny, because everybody always threatens their computers," said police Lt. Rick Bashor, seconds before his own police computer froze at police headquarters.


Nonetheless, they arrested him, since he made the mistake of shooting his computer in a room full of people. (You don't have to be an NRA-certified firearms instructor to recognize that this is not in accordance with generally accepted safety rules). But the story got wide play because, as Lt. Bashor noted, "everybody always threatens
their computers."

I notice, though, that I'm threatening my computer less often. Things tend to work better, and I think it's worth pointing that out. Last week, I noted elsewhere that I had had great luck installing two different software packages - Serious Magic's Visual Communicator, and Sonic Foundry's Video Factory - and one hardware device, an IEEE 1394 card for my laptop, and that all of them worked perfectly. (They were all dirt cheap, too.)

Perhaps as punishment for my smugness, I was then visited with two computer problems. The screen on my laptop died, and my DSL service went out. But there's a lesson there, too, and it's a good one.

Instead of reaching for my revolver, I called Toshiba Support. Within thirty seconds I was talking to a fellow who, by his accent, was probably in Bangalore. But he swiftly and efficiently touched bases - I explained that the computer would drive an external monitor, and that returning to an earlier restore point on Windows didn't help the problem - concluded that the screen was bad, and gave me the address of a Toshiba repair depot just a couple of miles from my house. I took the computer there, where I was in and out in under ten minutes, with the laptop promised for about the time you read this.

Later that same day, my DSL service went out. Once again I called Tech Support, was answered within moments, and got a friendly guy. He was obviously working from a script, and it took a while to convince him that the problem wasn't an unplugged modem, etc. I was pretty sure, based on experience, that the problem was at their end, and sure enough, he put me in touch with a line technician who solved the problem pronto.

We still like to complain about computers and tech support, and they're still far from perfect. But I've noticed lately that things tend to go a lot better than they did just a few years ago. Windows XP almost never crashes on me; new hardware nearly always works right, and tech support seems to be a lot better (this last may be due to the tonic effect of recession on both employers and employees, or it may be because of a learning curve).

I think it's the learning curve. Isaac Asimov once wrote that the "chief characteristic of the religion of science" is that "it works."

Computers keep getting better. Companies learn to serve their customers better. And, who knows, customers themselves may even be learning. Things aren't perfect, by any means, but they do seem to be improving.

Keep that in mind the next time you're tempted to reach for your revolver. (And for a nice account of what life's like from the other side of the tech-support phone, plus a lot of reader comments, read this piece by Dean Esmay.)

UPDATE: Left my Toshiba notebook at the repair depot Friday afternoon. Got a call Monday morning saying that it was fixed. I picked it up, and not only did it work, but the technician showed me how I could fix the problem myself next time.

You can't complain about that kind of service. Let's hope this represents a trend.
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