The Asian Factor (Killing Computers in America)

In my seven years as a digital publisher in Brazil, I developed a kind of “affection” towards a specific brand of computers. The machines were solid, trustworthy, and the support was great. For a mere 10% of the computer price I would be covered for two years: A specialist would come to my office in the midst of the Atlantic Forest whenever I needed. Moreover, although “remote access” was not available at the time, the telephone support was impressive, and the agents were savvy: Customers with a little knowledge of how computers worked, myself included, were effectively directed on how to solve their problems.

Then I moved to the United States, where I’ve been living for over a year. When the time came and I needed a new computer, my inclination was to remain faithful to the same brand. Moreover, their HD-quality screen resolution, crucial to my line of work, was unique in the market.

I carefully chose the latest model, with state-of-the-art features, but my first attempt was a total disaster: I opened the box and took the computer out; excited like a child, I plugged it in, turned it on. And perceived immediately that 1/4 of the screen was flickering, with some disturbing blue, red and green stripes. The graphic processor was defective. I had to return it.

The desired model was now out of stock. I waited. When it became available, I ordered it again, and this time everything seemed fine. The screen was beautiful, the machine appeared to work perfectly.

I proceeded to download all my data from the back-up cloud and to install the necessary apps to start working, until… I got “the blue screen of death,” caused by some unknown “conflict.” Speaking of which, Windows has recently replaced this frightening, alarming expression with a simpler “something did not work out and we must restart your computer,” followed by a sympathetic “sad smiley face.” Much better.

The support specialist tried to fix the issue through remote access, but promptly warned me that this probably wouldn’t work. He was going to mail me a USB media drive. If the computer crashed again, I should restore it to the “factory image,” which I ended up doing.

After more than ten days of work devoted to “tuning up” the computer, I realized I was having problems uploading files to the cloud, a key feature in my daily routine. My Internet connection was fine. I was not having any trouble with the other computers in my network. I ruled out other possible issues, like a firewall setting or something, and then decided to call support. Once again.

I have been warned about the diminishing quality of computers, which could be attributed to the declining quality of the manufacturing in China. We once used to joke that all computers made in China came with a secret “spying chip,” we should be extra careful. But it was only a joke. The insistently defective operating system was just a coincidence, I was unlucky, and that was all. Except it wasn’t. Complaints were all over the place, but I ignored them.

Back to the support session. Being a foreigner myself, I had a hard time understanding the agent’s strong Indian accent over the phone, which was solved by switching to the remote session screen. The representative proceeded, with my permission, to download and install on my computer one of those “free,” commercial anti-malware solutions that come up with a thousand issues, in order to convince you to upgrade to some premium version that will protect you effectively.

“Are you sure you want to install this commercial software,” I asked. “Does your company really recommend this software?” I emphasized, feeling truly uneasy.

“Yes, we use this software all the time, no worries. We will fix your computer.”

Bingo. My brand-new computer had 1,000 “threats,” and I was doomed.

Except I wasn’t. These warnings are usually fake, pointing out stuff that does not affect the computer at all, according to my experience.

The support agent then tried to convince me that I should buy premium support access, which would cost 30% of the computer’s sale price. Per year. I refused.

I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but I ended up talking to this man’s supervisor in my broken English, complaining about the agent’s actions. The supervisor apologized deeply, and I was transported into one of those Indian movies that show the harsh routine in call centers where supervisors operate like some kind of modern slave foremen.

I deeply regretted the agent’s fate, but there was nothing I could do to help. I had my own urgent problems to deal with.

To make a long story short, this week I had another remote session with the Indian call cen… oops, the Indian support center. This time the agent spent more than two hours on my computer — for free. It was now a “matter of honor.” He would fix my issue no matter the cost.

Except he didn’t. He installed the “special tool” that is provided only to premium maintenance plan holders, ran a bunch of tests, but to no avail.

The next morning, I was so upset that I went back to Google, where, as everybody knows, generous computer “geeks” share their knowledge absolutely free. And I finally found a suggestion to check the date of my wireless driver.

It all took less than a minute. I checked the version, it was outdated. I downloaded the newer one directly through Windows 10, et voilà, my issue was solved.

I’ve been wondering ever since what kind of company would entrust its customer care to the hands of such an incompetent staff. What would be the reason for that? To save some money? To get rid of American jobs? To commit entrepreneurial suicide?

Okay. Let me be clear, here. I didn’t mean to criticize all Indian support centers, just this specific one. Adobe support, for example, is really great; moreover, Adobe’s current CEO is Indian-American. And Calibre, my digital converter of choice and the most customer-friendly software in the world, was also created by an Indian, a genius.

As for China, well, according to the latest reports, Chinese industry is not exactly thriving, right? I’d better leave them alone, and time will take care of it all.

It kept me thinking. Maybe some of our presidential candidates have a point after all. We have outsourced too much, and now we’ve been hoisted by our own technological petard. 

About the Author
Noga Sklar was born in Tiberias, Israel, in 1952. She grew up in Belo Horizonte and lived for 30 years in Rio de Janeiro, a city she left behind to take refuge in a paradise among the mountains of Petropolis. Noga met her American husband Alan Sklar in 2004, through the American Jewish dating site JDate. This meeting gave new impetus to her life and literary career, inspiring her first novel, “No degrees of separation” (to be published in English in 2016. She now lives in Greenville, SC, US, where she moved with her husband in October 2014.
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