Beginner’s Luck

By Greg Raven
Volume vol. 6 no. 3 (March 1988), page 8

It’s something that all of us must go through at some point, I suppose. Even if you buy computer stuff from your very best friend in the whole world, when the time comes to get a question answered she won’t be anywhere around. And once you do make contact there is either no time to go into your problem, or your problem turns out to be one of the eternal enigmas — timeless and without answer.

So the next time you buy, you decide to pay extra just so you can get the customer support you know you will need. If you didn’t start out buying equipment from a friend, you fell for this trap the first time you bought. Don’t feel badly. Like I said, I’m sure we have all done it.

It must have something to do with the unconditional love we need as small babies. We all know that tower snipers and supervisors didn’t get enough mother’s love; that’s what made them the way they are today. Resolved: That we not make the same mistake as they. Pay extra. Get that customer support.

Only it never seems to work out that way.

I remember the first computer I bought. It was almost five years ago. How long ago is five years in computer years? That is long enough ago that we didn’t know the IBM-PC was going to become the dominant force in the MS-DOS world. I compared the IBM with some of the other machines on the market, and intelligently and with knowledge aforethought bought a future computer orphan. Bought it from a brand spanking new soon-to-go-bust computer consultancy, too. These guys were working out of their home, but by golly they were going to set the world on fire. As always, I had projects that had to be gotten to Right Now. I was fairly certain that the package I was buying would be capable of helping me. The question was how.

List price was what they were asking. Nothing off. Full support, don’t forget, was part of the package, and that was priceless, right? As a non-computer user and non-programmer facing MS-DOS and dBASE II, I took the plunge and trusted them. The basic system worked out to cost $8,600 dollars for a dual floppy machine and a printer, spread out over years of lease payments. During those years, I would add thousands more in hard- and software. Never got a dime’s worth of customer support.

I learned my lesson the hard way. Now, I will only pay list price if the item I want is single-sourced or desparately needed.

My attitude towards prices makes it tough on storefront computer operations. I enjoy wandering through the aisles as much as the next guy. And I don’t mind paying a little premium, but I do it so I’ll get the item right away, and not because I feel badly for the salespeople.

Part of that is because like everyone else I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with salespeople. Sometimes it seems as if they work 80-hour weeks just to serve us. Other times you couldn’t get ahold of them even if you had every Jehovah’s Witness in the world combing the streets on your behalf. Sometimes it seems that they work at the right hand of Technology, a magical electronic cornucopia disguised as a money-making enterprise. Other times they don’t seem to be aware of the most basic information, and in the two days it takes you to get through with your question, your hours of experimentation have taken you far, far beyond whatever level of expertise the salesperson has attained; there’s no way they can help you. At this point, the usual reaction is to hope fervently that your salesperson will be run out of town and out of your life like a common pigmy.

So if I want something badly enough I’ll kick in the difference in price rather that having to put a check in the mail or give my VISA number to some order-taker on the other side of the continent. But pay extra for support? Not bloody likely.

That’s fine for you, the neophyte says. But what about those of us who are just plain illiterate when it comes to computers? What about those of us who can’t or won’t stay up all night, if that’s what it takes, to figure out how to get something to work?

I can’t answer those questions for everybody. Perhaps if you get out in the middle of Nebraska or Wyoming the call to fight back against list prices and bogus promises of customer support creates more heat than light.

We’re in Los Angeles, though, and in Los Angeles there are any number of bodhisattvas of the Macintosh Buddhism cult available at your beck and call, many of them in the LAMG. In fact, the first couple times you attend a users’ group meeting it may seem that virtually everyone else in the world is a power user, as you listen to a room full of people babble incomprehensibly about bugs, work-arounds, tips, techniques, and new products. This is the place to get the bird’s eye low down about what troubles you. And wouldn’t you know it? Most of the information is free.

The great part of it is that the people you meet at an LAMG meeting have phone numbers and everything. So introduce yourself. Net work. Ask your questions and then listen to the answers.

Most of all, remember what you are going through. Because in a couple months you are going to be one of those approached by some new member, and you are going to know the answer to the questions being posed. When that day comes, you are going to want to look back on your first days as a Mac user, and with fond memories help the next person take those first important steps.

Oh, yeah. Don’t forget to get them to join the LAMG. The more of us there are, the better it works for everyone.