Our house Wi-Fi system was down and I couldn’t get it back, using the only method we all know: unplug everything you own, then reboot.
So I called Videotron, which eventually told me it was an Apple computer problem. So I called Apple, which decided it was my router manufacturer’s problem.
So I called my router company, which said it was Videotron’s problem — then Videotron sent me back to Apple.
Arrrgh. I’d been on the phone waiting or talking to technicians for two days — and gotten nowhere. So I did the 21st century thing and went online, searching for a Dummies’ Guide to Fixing Wi-Fi.
It took me two more long days of work to reconnect to the wired world — and I was wired. If a dummy like me could fix it, obviously my tech company “help lines” could, too.
But why should they when they can save money by reducing staff and outsourcing their service work — to me?
Last week, I wrote about how nothing gets repaired anymore — you have to replace it. But many of you wrote to say you’ve found a cheap, great repair person — yourself! — after spending weeks online learning to fix your own toasters, TVs and smoothie-makers.
Welcome to the “selfie”-service world, where we all do our own customer service — about as well as we take our own photos, where there’s often a thumb in the frame.
Increasingly we act as our own TV repairmen, travel agents, cashiers, wait staff, or furniture and barbecue assemblers — working for big companies for free.
How did this happen? The Stone Age of the selfie service era was the 1970s, when ATM machines trained us to be our own tellers.
Today, we’re all ATM experts, depositing wads of cheques, making transfers and printing statements — though I wish they’d let us approve our own loans and mortgages.
By the ’80s, we were all pumping our own gas and squeegeeing our windshields, now such routine tasks even the Queen probably pumps gas.
Fast food joints trained us to dress our own food, fill our own drinks and clean our own tables. I’m so well-trained I clean every crumb, so McDonald’s can save money on staff.
Computers were supposed to take over the tedious jobs, leaving us more leisure time, but instead they’ve transferred even more unpaid work to us. Today, we book our own concerts and other events online, then pay a “booking and handling” fee for our own labour.
We act as our own airline agents comparing and booking flights, reserving seats and printing boarding passes. If we don’t, airlines will charge us huge fees for things that were once just part of the flight.
TV and phone companies haven’t made a home repair visit since last century. The best they do is tell you how to repair things, with instructions over the phone.
Tech Guy: “OK, first disconnect the power cord and the red video cable. Now, follow that out onto your balcony and make sure it’s connected to a bright yellow cable.
You: Umm … the yellow cable is six feet above the balcony, beside a big Hydro-Québec line.
Tech Guy: Not a problem. We have full insurance coverage for all repairmen.
The more selfie skills we learn, the more tasks we get assigned — like finding our own bank and phone statements online (passwords please!), because they won’t send paper statements.
Fast food chains increasingly have us pressing nine buttons to order a muffin and coffee — and soon there won’t be anyone left behind the counter, or in the kitchen. Just more buttons saying:
1: Commence burger cooking.
2: Toast bun.
3: Pick up order in kitchen.
4: Sweep floor.
In recent years, big stores are training us to replace cashiers, by scanning and bagging our own stuff. Studies show we’re terribly slow at this, while trained cashiers are very fast, but hey! — we’re free.
Some customers actually seem to like it, victims of “Stockholm Service Syndrome” — where you fall in love with your captor.
Also many under-35s never had real service, so they don’t miss it and are happier doing things themselves, online — and avoiding people.
But there are big downsides. We live in a world where everyone complains they’re too busy and much of our busyness is because we’re overworked at all our small unpaid jobs.
We’re also losing human contact, the short brushes with service people we’ve had forever whether yakking briefly at the cash, or chatting on the phone — tiny interactions with strangers that link us with humanity.
A selfie-service world is a lonelier one.
I can see the future as the do-it-yourself-ie trend spreads with an online Dummies’ Guide To Home Dentistry and Light Surgery and an Ikea-style Assemble-Your-Own-Car-Kit with easy-to-use instructions.
“TO INSTALL BRAKES: Locate four large bolts under driver’s seat, then connect pedal using proper torque, while consulting diagram 303(a).
If you experience stopping difficulties while driving, STOP. (If car unable to stop, consult diagram 303(b).”