Saturday, September 4, 2010

Human slavery to technology

In the conclusion of Consumption and New Technologies – In the Hyper World, I wrote:

«Technological tools can nonetheless be very useful to humanity, provided that we properly direct their development and use. Humans are too often made to serve machines, or at least forced to adjust their life or behaviour to them, whereas machines should adapt to humans and be useful to mankind. »

Here is an example of what can happen when humans become enslaved to technology.

On Monday, August 30, I made a purchase for which I had a $5 coupon, but did not have my coupon with me. I still bought the item because the dealer assured me I had to return to the store to get coupon refunded, without specifying a precise date to do so.

On Friday, September 3, I phoned the store to inquire about opening hours that evening, and specify the object of my visit (coupon refund). I was then told that it was impossible to refund the coupon, its expiration date being September 1st.

I then explained that the purchase having been made on August 30, the coupon’s validity date had been respected. The clerk answered that there was absolutely no recourse, because the coupon’s bar code having been disabled in the computer, the cash register’s scanner could no longer read it.

Well aware of the fact that manual procedures can often work around this kind of technical difficulty, I asked to speak to the store manager. On a rather arrogant tone, inappropriate with a client, he dryly replied that he couldn’t do anything because that’s the way the computer system had been programmed.

In the end, I mentioned the fact that I had been a loyal customer for many years and informed him that I would buy elsewhere from now on if I did not get satisfaction. He responded that I'd probably be better served in another store. This response is mind-boggling when you realize how difficult it is to acquire new customers.

You’ll notice that I deliberately omitted to mention the type of product and store name. This incident could likely have happened elsewhere, given retailers’ heavy reliance on technology. The crucial point here is that the inflexibility of a technology should never hinder a merchant from satisfying a customer, provided the latter has good reason to be dissatisfied, and manual procedures should always exist to circumvent technological flaws.