The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

January 21, 2014

Operator error: When technology is smarter than you are

ENID, Okla. — Thousands of people gathered a couple of weeks ago in Las Vegas for the annual orgy of technology that is the Consumer Electronics Show.

Among the more forward-looking items on display was an app that can turn your smartphone into a medical diagnostic device much like the tricorders from “Star Trek.” Another gadget can turn your smartphone into a thermal scanner and yet another can turn your device into a stun gun.

Despite all these marvelous advances in technology, 58 percent of Americans still own a VCR, which hearken back to the days of leisure suits, plaid pants and platform shoes.

We have one, along with a home phone and a television that still has tubes in its considerable belly.

Slowly but surely, however, my bride and I are beginning to embrace technology. Not long ago, we tossed our flip phones in favor of smart ones. Not long before that, we obtained our first DVR. Now, we wonder how we ever got along without them.

I use a computer at work, of course, and have for years. The only typewriters left in the building are relics relegated to a closet.

Computers have made our lives infinitely easier. You can access the world through computers, both the good and the bad.

According to a 2013 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, 75.6 percent of American households reported owning a computer in 2011, while 71 percent had Internet access at home. According to the Pew Research Center, 85 percent of Americans use the Internet.

In the U.S., about 47 percent of consumers said they planned to shop online during this past holiday season.

The Internet has vastly changed the travel industry, as well. The website Statistics Brain reports that 57 percent of all travel reservations are now made online, to the tune of 148.3 million bookings annually.

Which brings us to this cautionary tale.

I was booking a trip last weekend, flying from our fair state to another, spending a week, then flying back from a different airport.

For a couple of the tickets I was cashing in frequent flier miles, but using two different credit cards.

So there I was, huddled over my laptop, trying to keep all the balls in the air, checking and re-checking flight numbers and arrival times to make sure my bride and I were on the same flights.

I was down to the final reservation. I plugged in the pertinent personal information, then came to the part where I put in the credit card number. I did, plus the security code and the expiration date. I double-checked everything and clicked the button to book the flight.

I got an error message. The credit card number was incorrect. I sighed and slowly, deliberately re-entered the card number, security code and expiration date. I clicked the button again, error message.

By this time, according to my bride, who was sitting nearby blissfully playing a game on her smartphone, a vein was standing out on my forehead.

So I called the credit card company. The nice lady told me the problem lay with the airline, then she tried to get me to upgrade my card, for a fee. I thanked her and hung up.

I sighed again, and once again, slowly and deliberately entered all the numbers, plugged in the expiration date and clicked the button, only to receive the same error message.

So I called the credit card company again. I got another nice lady, who sympathized with me and offered to issue me another card, but again said it was the airline’s problem. This one declined to try and sell me anything, for which I was grateful. I thanked her and hung up, dialing the airline.

I was promptly put on hold. By this time, I could feel my blood pressure rising, and, again according to my bride, I began mumbling.

“Stupid credit card company, stupid airline website, why do you even have a website if you can’t use it to book a flight,” and so on.

I got frustrated being on hold, hung up and dialed another number. It turned out to be the wrong one. By this time, my face was the color of a ripe tomato, again thanks to an eyewitness account from my bride. I called the first airline number again, and once again, was put on hold.

After a time, a lady answered. I explained my plight. She told me to get back on their site and she would walk me through the booking process.

I protested, growling that the problem was undoubtedly the airline’s, not mine, but agreed to try it her way.

I put in all my personal information, for the fourth time, and the credit card number, plus the security code, then the expiration date.

“Do you have the correct expiration date?” the lady asked.

“Of course I do,” I said indignantly as I stared at the credit hard clenched in my sweaty paw, “it is ...” And I stopped, realizing that the date I had been typing in all this time was not the correct one. I was plugging in the date of another credit card, not the one I was using.

I sheepishly told the lady of my error. To her credit, she didn’t laugh, but I could hear the smile in her voice as she told me to insert the correct date and to click the button to finalize the sale.

 I did, and received a confirmation number for the flight. My bride did not refrain from laughing. I apologized profusely to the airline lady and got off the phone as soon as I could.

It just goes to show you, smart technology is only as smart as the person using it.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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