The trouble with being a Mac user is it lulls you into a false sense of security. It’s like what happens with snow. In most northern countries people aren’t surprised by it, and just trudge around looking resigned until it goes away again. Windows users have the same kind of relationship with stuff that fails to work, does the opposite of what they meant, or tells them to wait while the system restarts to complete installation of another essential update.
But Britain only gets heavy snow once in a while, so when more than eight flakes fall we panic and cancel everything. Similarly, Mac users faced with an unresponsive dialog box are liable to freak out, run to Starbucks and plaintively nurse a two-shot hazelnut skinny venti latte while tweeting about their terrible morning from their iPhone.
Appropriately enough, my problems with Virgin Media began a few weeks before Christmas. I should first point out that Virgin cable is probably the best broadband service in the UK, being the only one not dependent on bits of wire installed by BT before you were born. But early in December it started slowing down in the evenings, eventually falling to below dial-up speed the same week I was trying to send a magazine to press. Call me fussy, but I don’t want to have to work all night so I can publish the results in the morning. I’m not Belle de Jour.
At the time of writing my broadband still isn’t fixed, and the reason is the continuing crapness of tech support departments. Calling tech support is like playing a classic videogame: you have to shoot down several waves of cannon fodder before you get to the boss. As in Space Invaders, first-line staff repeat a preset range of moves without any intelligence, constantly shift their position, and emit nothing more meaningful than a series of bleeps. To make any progress you have to get through to the second line, which must also be defeated before you reach your real target: the third-line engineer.
(It’s not clear, incidentally, why the word ‘engineer’ was adopted in this context. I always imagine them sitting in their cubicles wearing sideburns and a stovepipe hat.)
Turns out Virgin have added a bonus level. The fifth time I called, once they’d established in what precise way they didn’t understand what was wrong, they put me through to someone who knew less. A zeroth-line engineer, as Asimov might have put it. I was transferred to a crackly international line which cut out every few minutes, usually just after the words ‘What I want you to try is…’.
This aside, the woman I spoke to sounded charming and determinedly perky, like Shilpa Shetty in a situation of mild social awkwardness. She made some lights blink on the modem and asked me which lights were blinking, which reminded me of those tests at the optician’s where you’re really not sure of the correct answer and worry you’re going to end up with lenses that make everything upside-down. Then she said: ‘Now, if you can just reboot your PC.’
Tech support people, like doctors’ receptionists, assume that we all use their services purely for recreational purposes, thus distracting them from tending to the infinitely more pressing needs of their real customers, who are cooler than us, smarter than us, and imaginary, like all the friends they had at school. It’s always us wasting their valuable time, not the other way round.
Well, I rebelled. Naturally, I had two dozen windows open containing work or websites that I didn’t want to forget what I was doing with. Several of the apps were made by Microsoft or Adobe, so there was no chance of them closing without a fight. And there was no reason why rebooting should have any effect on the network connection in any case. I offered this reasonable objection, adding: ‘By the way, it’s a Mac.’
There was a dramatic pause, this time not a glitch. ‘Then I do not understand,’ confessed my engineer. ‘Only PCs can connect slowly. The Mac is a very beautiful computer’ (I swear she actually said this) ‘but it is either connected or not connected.’
I pass on this piece of wisdom without comment. Eastern philosophy has always defied rational analysis. But, in the Western empirical tradition that gave rise to the paradoxes of quantum theory, I beg to differ. My Mac is not either connected or not connected. It’s both.