By Tom Ehrich
Some days my caller is “Julia,” who is excited that I have been pre-approved for a $250,000 business loan. Other days it is “Lisa,” who’s calling to congratulate me on winning some “reward” for having visited an unnamed web site.
Another “Lisa” has great news about boosting my credit score. (What is it about the name “Lisa”? Is it like the deliberate errors in spelling and grammar in a “Nigerian letter”: a sign that my caller is a simple-minded girl whom I can outwit? First cousin, of course, to the car salesman who is smarter than I will ever be about hawking overpriced cars.)
I quickly block the incoming number on my iPhone, but these clever ladies must have several hundred phone numbers available to them. Today’s call by “Julia” was from some hamlet in New Jersey.
Their automated scripts apparently were written by the sadist who moonlights as a customer service manager at Microsoft. His mission is to make customer service so maddening that I will never call Microsoft again. Interesting approach to supporting product.
Then there’s the thoughtful person who hacks a friend’s Facebook account and sends me a message asking if I have heard the “good news.” As you know, good news isn’t a staple on social media, so maybe this is a break in the caustic flow. Alas, it turns out to be a scam for getting free government money.
So here I sit with an iPhone 6 Plus, the current acme of technological advancement at the largest company in the world. Its main telephonic function is opening the door to telemarketers masquerading as ebullient easy-to-fool girls just aching to help me solve life problems like my credit score. How did several thousand brilliant minds get sidetracked onto this trivial pursuit?
But no matter. If Apple can convince people to buy a high-end smartphone product that hasn’t been significantly improved in three years, that’s their business. If Microsoft can build customer loyalty through wretched customer service, more power to them. If Facebook can monetize users’ desire for friendship, go for it. In the era of Donald Trump, lying and cheating and pretending to be important might well be a path to victory.
A day of reckoning will come, of course. You can’t fool people forever. Apple-watchers are worried the iconic brand may be losing its way by counting on fanboys’ automatic upgrade fever. Sarcastic ads aren’t helping Microsoft move its hardware. Facebook users seem to be getting savvier and warier, which bodes ill for the social medium. Twitter is already tanking. Tech brands like Cisco and Yahoo are in deep trouble.
Big banks are back at their bad-boy behavior. But this time, the market is paying attention. So are government regulators. Housing prices in Manhattan and San Francisco got so absurd that the market shifted against them. The bloom has faded for WeWork, a high-flying startup whose customers are discovering that renting small spaces with no privacy, a lot of frat–boy noise and poaching of employees isn’t all that appealing.
In other words, people do eventually wake up and see reality. They see empty promises made by employers. They see the poor cost-benefit of an Ivy League education. They see products that don’t deliver and customer service that doesn’t serve. Even lovely “Lisa” can’t keep us on the line.
Polls suggest that The Donald is losing his ability to cast a spell. His aura of business acumen has been dimmed by actual results of his enterprises. Years of cheating on contracts are catching up with him. Now that people outside his raging cohort are paying attention to his rhetoric, they are fleeing. Doing the old “wink-wink” on bigotry is turning people against other GOP candidates.
The good news, I think, is that when people have freedom and choices, they tend to move in a healthy direction. That’s why big banks, software makers and employers work so hard to keep us tethered – unfree – by making it difficult to unwind from them. But nimble competitors keep emerging that counteract that strategy. No wonder Trump promises that his first sortie as President would be to trash freedom of the press, followed by walling off the free movement of peoples.
I put my bet on freedom. God made us to be free. Anything less than freedom won’t last for long. Sorry, “Lisa.”