Monday, August 09, 2004

A Mobile Phone Story


Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age: An Insider's Alarming Discoveries about Cancer and Genetic DamageThe story you are about to hear is true. Only the company name has been changed -- to protect the guilty, because there are no innocents in this story. Hint: the company -- one of the two remaining large telcos in the country -- has seven letters in its name.

This weekend I noticed something funny about my cellphone. I had it plugged in to the charger and every few seconds it beeped. I looked at the face-plate. "Charge complete", it said. Ten seconds later it would beep again and make the same claim.

But when I tried to use it, it was deader than a door-nail. It simply would not boot. Oh, the Motorola logo came up on the color screen, and the whiz-bang "I'm starrrrrrrting" tune played (just to mock me, I'm sure), but that was as far as it got.

Now this wasn't the first time my Motorola 720 had exhibited a certain, shall we say, schizophrenia. I'd bought it in April 2003 and signed up for a two-year service contract. I'd been with DontCareCo since '98 and had been relatively pleased with the service. Or as pleased as anyone can be with an uncaring, faceless beauracracy that existed only to siphon $50 to $100 out of my bank account like clockwork every month.

But the Motorola phone being aggressively hawked back in '03 was a humdinger. In fact, driving away from the store after purchasing it, I noticed it had switched to Analog mode. Uhmm, strange... there's a brand new digital cell tower within 500 yards of the store. I drove in a circle and went back to the store. The wireless gurus there pulled the battery out, pushed it back in, and everything appeared to reset just fine. Back to Digital mode. I took the phone back... my first mistake in this saga... and drove away.

Over time I started to experience all of the firmware bugs that other friends and colleagues with the same phone complained about. Keyboard dead? Solution: pop the battery out, then replace it. Clock stops working? Pop the battery. No incoming calls? Pop it. Have you detected a pattern for troubleshooting the 720 phone here?

You know they say that ten million monkeys all banging away on ten million chipset development systems could come up with the perfect cellphone firmware package within a thousand or so years. Or at least I think they say something like that.

But Motorola didn't have enough funding to hire ten million monkeys, or even a few hundred, so they got the next best thing. They hired the top three primate programmers in the world and gave them carte blanche. Unlimited bananas. A suite at the Holiday Inn Express. A VCR with Doctor Doolittle playing on loopback.

Their productivity was amazing. Within a few weeks, they'd created the entire firmware package for the 720 phone and passed it on to an equally qualified simian testing team that performed test & verification. These QA chimps signed off after a rigorous twenty minute acceptance test and the 720 was launched. And did those monkizays cut loose at the launch partizay! A round of banana splits on the house, garcon!

Truthfully, I'm just speculating on how Motorola actually developed the 720 firmware, but from all appearances, I'm pretty sure that's how it happened.

My second mistake -- repeated countless times -- was bringing back the phone to DontCareCo on multiple occasions only to have them examine it and proclaim it "fine". If my phone was "fine", then a "fine wine" must be a bottle of MD 20 20 left open in sweltering heat for two weeks.

So my phone's death this weekend occasioned yet another trip to DontCareCo at Fields Ertel. After the obligatory ten minute wait in line (which I believe is officially required by corporate dictate, from what I gather), I was told that the phone need to be "re-flashed". Best of all, they had no facility for "re-flashing" phones at this location. Apparently the technology required to "re-flash" is so rare, so expensive and requires such expertise (possibly a Doctorate in re-flashing), that only the Tri-County location of DontCareCo was qualified to handle a project of this magnitude.

With hopeful excitement that, in retrospect, represented either unbridled naivete or rarefied ignorance, I drove to Tri-County on Monday. After I waited the required ten minutes, the gentlemen behind the counter just looked at me. He didn't say anything. He just eyed me like I had come to steal his lunch. He faced me with all the enthusiasm of a Greyhound driver being asked to drive coast-to-coast a day from retirement.

I explained the problem. He accepted the phone -- tentatively -- almost as if he didn't want to get involved. He gingerly held it between thumb and index finger, as if he were at risk of catching a "workaholic" virus.

After turning over the phone several times, I commented that he might try to turn it on. He was not pleased with my suggestion. He did so, with a sigh, and it froze again while starting up, its tune mocking me again. He looked at the Motorola logo that was proudly displayed on the screen of the now useless phone. And he stated his diagnosis with all the conviction of a master phone clinician.

"This screen is bad. We can't fix this."

Okay, let me get this straight. Somehow, the keyboard doesn't work, incoming calls aren't accepted, and the screen has magically decided to light its pixels in the shape of the Motorola logo... but it's the screen that's bad. Hmmmmm. Master Phone Clinician he may be, but I counter with:

"Maybe you could try re-flashing it."

He claimed that re-flashing really won't do anything for the phone. After his careful diagnostic inspection, I'm loathe to argue with him, but I tell him that the Fields Ertel people had suggested re-flashing.

He sighed. A long sigh. A pained sigh. One that implied that he might actually have to move off of his chair and place the phone on the table behind him. He finally did so with a grunt. He tossed it casually onto the table and said, "that'll be 45 minutes."

I said I'd be back. I said thank you. You know, honey, flies, that sorta thing.

I was back at about 1pm, three hours later. My master clinician was no longer there. Possibly he had passed out in the back from exhaustion. I bypassed the queue of desperate, phoneless people and said to a girl at the counter, "I left my phone here three hours ago to be re-flashed."

I saw my phone sitting in the exact same place on the table. I was pretty sure it hadn't moved. It might even have had cobwebs on it, I'm not sure. She retrieved it, turned it on, and discovered that it was still frozen. I groaned inside. I asked her whether they had re-flashed it. She said she didn't know, "I just showed up." She said to have a seat and she would check into it. So once again DontCareCo had found a way to make me wait ten minutes. Again, I'm pretty certain that this is a corporate policy because it is adhered to at virtually all locations.

After about 600 seconds had elapsed, she returned. She said I would have to go to the "Customer Service" line. So I could, presumably, get service since I was a customer. I looked at the line, which promised yet another ten minute wait. I said I would have to come back later, because I needed to get back to the office.

At 4:30pm I returned. The Customer Service line was empty. I sidled up to the representative behind the counter. He was very excited and pleased to see me. Actually, no. Apparently, he had attended the same enthusiasm classes as his peers, which was to say that his enthusiasm had been carefully sucked from every crevice of his body by some sort of Corporate Training Dracula.

I explained my situation. I told him I was headed out of town. I needed a phone, a loaner, a junky old phone, anything. His fingers danced over the keyboard. Maybe he was on Monster.com looking for a new job. In any event, after some typing, he told me that I was out of warranty by a few months and that I needed to pay a $50 replacement fee to replace the utterly defective phone they'd sold me.

I patiently explained the history of this pathetic Motorola phone, the litany of visits, the legacy of pain, the suffering. Oh, the humanity! He didn't care.

"Look, my contract is up in six months, and I'm gone if you guys don't make this right. This phone stinks and everyone I know with it says it stinks, too."

"Well, at least it's not as bad as the Samsung," he replied.

"You know, I figure I've paid your company about $4,000 over the last few years. The least you could do is help me out on this. It's not like I hit the phone with a hammer and now want to get a new one. This phone is flat-out defective!"

His fingers sang on the keyboard. Yes, he was a veritable Tchaikovsky of the DontCareCo point-of-sale system.

"Well... I guess we could sell you a new phone at the current prices listed out there," he gestured at the showroom, "if you sign up for a new two year agreement.".

Hell with that. I told him, politely, no. Bill me $50. Send me a replacement.

Goodbye DontCareCo. Goodbye Motorola. Within a few months, I'll be rid of both of you and I'll be on a no-contract system with our RBOC. I'm happy, my brother's happy, and DontCareCo can pound sand.

I'm going to TargetWorld to bust a few caps into some silhouettes. And it will take serious willpower not to imagine some DontCareCo logos emblazoned on the silhouettes.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great story Doug. If you're ever in MA again and you're still a Verizon customer, The Wireless Zone in Littleton MA is very helpful.