The Challenging Online World: How to Make the System Work for You

Do what makes sense for you.

Posted Feb 22, 2021

Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels
Source: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Over the past week, I had two experiences that either make me challenge my ability to function in the online world or represent the online world gone wild and a bit crazy in terms of trying to eliminate the human element.

Story Number One

I decided to take my 12-year-old car out for a drive just to make sure that things were working since I am driving very little these days. Everything was fine until a bright red light came on the screen saying, “Your tires are dangerously low, and you need to do something about it!” It didn’t really say that, but that’s what the big red flashing sign means.

OK, I understand that tires sometimes go flat on their own, and I don’t know whether driving more or less makes a difference, but I received a signal to do something. As I was pulling back into my garage, it suddenly occurred to me that if something were to happen as I was driving to a gas station to refill my tires, I might get into deep trouble. In the past, AAA has been my savior, and while I don’t use it very often, it’s nice to know that I have a backup if anything were to go wrong.

So, I dug into my combination iPhone license/credit card carrier and pulled out my AAA card. Oh my God. According to what I found, my AAA expired in 2020, and it was now 2021.

So, I frantically asked my wife to check her card, and while initially assuming that everything was right, and it was just me that had misplaced/lost/never opened the AAA envelope, I found that she, too, had an expired card. Fortunately, she had backup materials that said we had, indeed, paid the bill but obviously hadn’t received the cards. “No big deal. I’ll just call up the local office let them know what happened, and they will send out our cards immediately.”

Not so simple. What’s not so simple? It’s not so simple to get anybody to talk to you. I spent at least 30 minutes pushing numbers that directed me to different departments but got absolutely nowhere.

Finally, I stayed on the line and began saying “representative,” “representative,” “representative.” Whether that made a difference, or the system is programmed to let you through to a real person after you have gotten exasperated and exhausted, someone finally picked up the phone. I almost cried with relief and told him how thankful I was to hear a real voice at the other end of the line.

He laughed, thanked me, and said that this was not the first time he’d heard that story. I then explained what had taken place. He asked me a number of questions, looked up my account, and assured me that, indeed, I was paid up, and cards would be sent in three to four weeks. Argh! Three to four weeks? No, no, no, no, no.

I explained that I couldn’t wait that long and asked what could be done. He said that he could send a copy of the cards to my email, and I could print them out. And that’s exactly what I did both for my wife and me. Great relief!

Story Number Two

My oldest son lives in New York. He recently had a birthday, and I wanted to get him a gift that would be meaningful and very special. Another coffee maker? More books on cooking? Outdoor running gear? Not in New York in the middle of winter.

After conferring with his wife, she suggested that a new laptop would be ideal. His old one was falling apart; it was difficult to get things upgraded and all the rest. I had recently experienced the excitement of upgrading my own computer and having much more access to the virtual world, so I said, “Let’s do it.”

I then called my son, and we decided on a small laptop. I went to the Apple store website and began the process of ordering online. Once again: No way! It was easy to get the standard model, but when trying to upgrade memory from 8 MB to 16 MB, everything fell apart. No matter how many times I tried to do the same thing, it just wouldn’t work out. Probably my ineptitude, but I said, “I’m not going to be defeated.”

I immediately went to the Amazon website. Surely, I could do what I needed to do there. By the way, I live in California, and my son lives in New York, and somehow the information needed to track what was happening with delivery differed from the address on my credit card and on and on and on.

Again, after another half-hour of incredibly unsuccessful struggling online, I picked up the phone. The local Apple Store was closed and would be for another two weeks, so once again, I persisted, by not answering the multitude of questions being asked by a programmed voice and continuing to repeat “sales representative,” “sales representative,” “sales representative.”

Guess what? I was able to talk with a sales representative. In less than five minutes, I explained what I wanted, provided my credit card information, credit card address, my son’s New York address, and ordered the laptop. The Apple sales rep and I discussed add-ons, getting a cover for the computer, and other things that you can’t do very well via question-and-answer texts.

I know that anyone under 30 (or even under 40) who is reading this post is probably chuckling, convinced that I am a victim of mild cognitive impairment or early-onset dementia. Maybe so, but I sure as hell function well in a number of other areas, including organizational consulting, an active medical psychology practice, and writing these posts.

For the readers who are in their 50s, 60s, or 70s and beyond, I hope you will take this post as a reassurance that you are just fine. You may not be able to do all the things that you would like to do online. No big deal. Don’t be embarrassed, don’t be ashamed; just figure out a way to get what you want done. We all know that having question-and-answer sessions with a computer rather than a person saves Apple, Amazon, AT&T, Spectrum, and a host of others tons of money. I get it. But that is not my problem.

The most expedient action is not always the right one, and each and every one of us has to figure out what works for us. By the way, it’s kind of fun talking to a real person and letting him or her know what you want and what you need. The fellow from AAA thanked me for my many years of being a part of the AAA family. I told him that I suspected that I had been a member of AAA almost twice as long as he’s been alive. He didn’t verify my observation, but there was a chuckle in his voice.

Do what makes sense for you. Continue to develop new skills while making personal decisions work. Sometimes talking without Zoom or Facebook et al. is a lot more interesting, personal, and intimate than an online encounter. Make the system work for you rather than feeling you have to adjust to the system.

And that’s what I have to say.