Price of tech­nol­ogy needs to be clear

Bray People - - OPINION - FR MICHAEL COM­MANE

IN 1975 I helped in­stall a tele­phone ex­change in the Do­mini­can Pri­ory in Rome. It was a sec­ond-hand cross bar ex­change. Me­chan­i­cal bits and bobs jump­ing and mov­ing all around the place. And it was big.

Back then it was not pos­si­ble to tele­phone Ire­land di­rectly from Rome. An­other world, an­other time.

When my fam­ily got a tele­phone in the early 1960s in Dublin it was a big thing and just some short years be­fore that there were still sin­gle digit tele­phone num­bers.

When phones first ap­peared in trains, peo­ple queued up to call those col­lect­ing them that the train was ei­ther on time or late. A phone in a train now seems and sounds an­ti­quated.

I imag­ine over 90 per cent of peo­ple who read this col­umn have a mo­bile phone.

It re­ally has been an ex­tra­or­di­nary story of tech­no­log­i­cal progress.

Last Oc­to­ber I bought a smart phone - an Iphone. It was a quan­tum leap for me as be­fore that I had an an­cient thing that no young per­son would be seen dead with.

The Iphone is mind-bog­gling. I can use it as a tele­phone, a cam­era, in­ter­net fa­cil­ity.

I can down­load ap­pli­ca­tions, com­monly called apps. These mag­i­cal ' things' al­low me lis­ten to any ra­dio sta­tion any­where in the world, watch TV sta­tions. I have Dublin bus timeta­bles on it. It has is a satel­lite nav­i­ga­tional sys­tem. This ma­chine is 'scary'. It is pure magic.

Not so long ago at all I was mes­merised, maybe an­noyed, to see peo­ple surf­ing the net on their smart phones on the Luas. No, I'm not do­ing it, but I un­der­stand now. It's ad­dic­tive.

But, and there is al­ways a ' but' in this val­ley of tears of ours. And the ' but' has of course to do with how tele­phone com­pa­nies must be mak­ing an aw­ful lot of money on us and do we ac­tu­ally know how much we are spend­ing.

When I changed over from an 'old­fash­ioned', ' con­ven­tional' mo­bile phone to the IPhone I knew it would cost more to use. I was a pre­paid cus­tomer and de­cided to stay in that cat­e­gory but upped my monthly pay­ment from €20 to €30. Along with the nor­mal tele­phony deal it gave me 250 megabytes us­age of data each month.

I quickly dis­cov­ered that that was not ad­e­quate. I de­cided to change to bill pay and for the same price I was told I would re­ceive monthly one gi­ga­byte of data. So I changed over

I did the change via the tele­phone and was told it would take three to five work­ing days. It took over a week and in the mean­time I was charged a puni­tive rate for ac­cess­ing data.

When my pack­age did change over the tele­phone com­pany for­got to add the data bun­dle.

Ev­ery day for six days I called cus­tomer ser­vice. It was a head-wreck­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of press­ing but­tons, lis­ten­ing to voice prompt, even­tu­ally get­ting through to a hu­man voice. I have given my ad­dress, tele­phone num­ber and date of birth in those five days a zil­lion times. I feel far older than on the first oc­ca­sion I gave my date of birth.

Even­tu­ally ev­ery­thing seems to be in place and the tele­phone com­pany has 'cred­ited' my ac­count for data us­age dur­ing the in­terim pe­riod.

How many peo­ple are so care­ful or par­si­mo­nious enough to keep on top of all this?

Some weeks ago I wrote in this col­umn a re­view of Hans Fal­lada's ' Alone in Ber­lin'. Since then I have read more of his nov­els, in­clud­ing 'Lit­tle Man, What Now'. It is a cri­tique of what life is like for the small, unim­por­tant peo­ple, es­pe­cially in times of dif­fi­culty.

The dice is al­ways stacked against the poor and frag­ile in our so­ci­ety. To say any­thing else is hum­bug, a type of pseudo jar­gon fed to us from the rul­ing classes.

I could not be­gin to tell you the level of frus­tra­tion I reached in my com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the tele­phone com­pany.

What must it be like for peo­ple who are con­stantly be­ing pil­lo­ried and feel alien­ated, lost and an­gry, peo­ple who sim­ply are not cheeky or ar­tic­u­late enough with their case?

Tech­nol­ogy is great but the price of it needs al­ways to be trans­par­ent, cus­tomer friendly and prop­erly reg­u­lated.

Af­ter all, com­mu­ni­ca­tions is about un­der­stand­ing and em­pathis­ing with other peo­ple.

Isn't it ironic, with all our in­stant mes­sag­ing, so many are so alien­ated.

A funny old world.

Isn't it ironic, with all our in­stant mes­sag­ing, so many are so alien­ated.

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