The Replacements' song is one of the simplest and raw diatribes against technologies that distance people in the name of connecting them. I had two unmusical experiences last week that made me think of it. They were opposites of one another, yet forcefully illustrated the same point.
The first was the disappearance of a friend who lived far away geographically, but seemed practically next door thanks to IM, Email, and SMS. These technologies had enabled a regular back-and-forth between us about issues both important and silly, as well as a rapidity of conversation that often felt almost real-time.
But then my friend's messages started to slow and get more curt. The conversation lost its easy relevance and became strained. The very media that had allowed for such a friendship proved inadequate for discovering why the friendship had changed, but it had, and the conversation felt like work. Messages got no answers and, when they did, they came with all the form and none of the functionality that had once inspired them. The same tech that had made it so easy to talk made it so easy to stop.
I wonder how many new or rekindled friendships on Facebook (or other platforms) follow the same path, albeit less dramatically?
The second experience was the opposite: All function that added up to no form.
I've had SiriusXM radio in my car for years, yet only realized recently that I could listen to it on my desktop computer. Doing so required a password, though, which I'd never created or couldn't remember, so I emailed customer service for help. Nothing happened; no reply whatsoever, until a few weeks later, when I got my automatic online satisfaction survey for the help I never got.
I couldn't believe it, but I filled out the survey and received another email, this one telling me to provide them with info so they could help me. I did, then clicked on the link provided in a third email that took me to a page that should have issued me a working password...only it didn't work, and there was no obvious recourse other than sending another over-the-transom email to a generic customer service site.
The tech that made it so easy to talk seemed to denigrate the very service it was supposed to deliver. The company could have replied to my first contact and solved my problem, or done so the second time, but instead the tech just directed me to more tech. The only "service" I got was the help I was able to offer myself. It was easy to talk, but it didn’t add up anything. I will quit the service once my subscription expires.
I wonder how many times customers give up after getting such help, and whether that outcome isn't a conscious choice by the folks who installed the technology. All I know is that any sense of humanity or the reality of true contact were missing from both of my examples. The technology was close to me (literally at my fingertips), but it left me with little else.
So to my friend who disappeared, and to the customer service I never found: