The Curse Of Technological Inertia

At first I thought that customer service reps at T-Mobile and ruined the story I was planning for this morning when they rendered exceptionally perceptive and patient help last night when I was attempting to set up the email account on my wife's new Android device. Almost, but not quite.

Actually, despite their yeoman and yeowoman efforts, the fact that they patted me on the back and said I'd done everything right all along, and despite the ultimate success of the mission, I spent four or five hours that I technically don't have, quite literally, on the problem. And that actually underscores my theme: The Curse of Technological Inertia, which is to say that we don't do things that are in our best interests as consumers because we fear something will go wrong if we do.

There's good fortune to be made by companies that address this problem.

For more than a year, we had been paying about $50 more a month in mobile phone charges than we needed to because I so dreaded the transfer of my wife's service from a Verizon account she'd inherited from a previous job to our T-Mobile family plan. I just knew that not only was she was going to rue the loss of her address book (which, truth be told, has about a dozen essential numbers) but also that I was going to run into some sort of digital snafu in setting up the "smartphone" features of the new device.



As we all know from brutal experience, irrational fear is the mother of actuality. As it turned out, I at first dumb-wittingly entered the incoming and outgoing servers to my home wireless provider, which happens to be Verizon FiOS. And, miracle of miracles, we got mail. Who knows why? But only once. It quickly dawned on me that I needed to connect to the servers where my domain and email accounts reside, I did. I swiped in and punched in alphanumeric combinations every which way but Sanskrit. Nothing. For days.

This reaffirmed in my mind why it's a good idea to stick with something even if it's bleeding your bank account. And I suppose that may be the thinking behind the highly erratic, but mostly awful, experiences I've had with most tech customer service over the years (well-meaning as it often appears to be). If you keep us ignorant, we won't stray.

There are good reasons to hate the Phone Company. There are good reasons to hate the Cable Company. Each now does what the other used to do exclusively, which is all the more reason to hate either. But if you take your business from one and give it to the other, you can save a lot of money on the bundled services, at least for a year or two. And maybe get a free iPod Touch in the process. And after the year or two, what's to prevent you from taking your affections to the other suitor who, no doubt, will still be offering a bouquet of enticements no matter what he says about "special one-time offers" or his "technological time clock running out"?

It makes no sense, therefore, to carry on with both wooers -- from both a financial and a mental health standpoint. Yet I do. And you probably do, too.

Look, I may not be a certified geek when it comes to wires, chips, routers or IP addresses, but I'm no ninny either. It took an entire weekend of turning around in cyber cul-de-sacs, but I put myself on the information superhighway back in the days when screeching dial-up modems had the neighbors calling the cops and service providers like the quirky Delphi were the only way for home-based consumers to connect to the Internet. The Mozilla graphical browser wasn't even a rumor back then. In the day, by golly, I could seamlessly record cassette tapes from LP records and wire a room correctly for quadraphonic sound. My VCR light never blinked.

But I break out in an angst-ridden sweat when I contemplate upending the (mostly smooth) operation of my current Internet and TV set-up.

If I go with the cable company for my phone service, will I be able to piggyback my fax and home line on my home line for $5 a month as I now do with Verizon? Worse yet, the mere thought of rerouting the incoming and outgoing mail servers on all of the Internet-ready devices in this household gives me the heebie-jeebies. Conversely, if I entrust my TV to FiOS, what happens to my Netflix box? Will I be paying $8 a month just for streaming movies on my laptop? And won't my local news channel disappear?

Hey, suppose I was to ditch them both and go with a VoIP service like Vonage, which I have in a getaway cottage? Maybe I could even use the same phone number at both addresses? But I'll still need an ISP. And is Vonage going to be around in six months?

And that's why all of the glossy, weekly direct mail enticements I receive from both Verizon and Cablevision to entrust all of my digital business to them go straight to the recycling bin. And why I sent packing that wonky Verizon FiOS rep who canvassed our neighborhood on foot for days last summer with a piece of my mind to take with him. All the marketing in the world cannot overcome Technological Inertia.

I'm telling you, you can make a good living out of solving this dilemma that 25 years of rampaging technology has bred. Differentiate your product or service by actually making it easy for people to overcome the fear of upsetting what ain't (too) broke.

Tomorrow, unless something along the lines of Apple announcing a marketing partnership with General Motors breaks, or my FiOS connection succumbs to the ice storm outside this morning, I'll look at one company that has done just this. But if you've got any success stories of your own, I'd love to hear them.

2 comments about "The Curse Of Technological Inertia ".
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  1. Sadie Elliott from Sadie and Friends, February 2, 2011 at 8:58 a.m.

    What a great piece. You are so right about the inertia and there seems to be no one out there who can put it all together. I'm surprised there hasn't been a good solution to this problem. The technology advances far ahead of our ability to maintain it. I once hired someone who said they were an expert at putting it together and all I did was waste some more time and money.
    Just found your blog, can't wait to read tomorrows

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 2, 2011 at 9:43 a.m.

    When I switched from Veriaon to Comcast for internet service, my emails from went into email heaven. Goodby land line and goodby Verizon cell and internet combo (Fios was not avail then). Hello Comcast internet, phone VOIP and TV combo with no cell discounts. Should I switch? From what I can tell, the difference is not so much. Am I wrong? PS: If obly 12 dire contacts, write them down and re-enter. You'll go slower and get there faster.

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