A few days ago, my printer ran out of ink and my four-page document came out in ghost writing.
I had a replacement cartridge, so I went online, read the instructions and changed it out.
The printer was supposed to print a calibration page showing that it'd been changed properly. It never did, and it kept printing ghost papers.
At that point, the sum total of my technical prowess was exhausted, so I went back online to learn more. I found a trouble-shooting page offered by the company that made my printer. I waded through the geek speak to try a couple of recommended remedies, starting with the one I understood best -- unplugging the printer and plugging it back in.
Then unplugging the cords on the back of the printer and plugging them back in. And so on.
Nothing worked. It still printed ghost papers at a speed of about five minutes per page.
So, back online I found a place where I could type out my question and a tech guy at the other end would answer it for free ... "within seconds."
That sounded almost too good to be true.
I wrote out my problem and sent it. In less than a minute, I got a response asking me to answer a couple of clarifying questions about the problem. Which I did.
Another few moments and a screen popped up asking for my name and the state I lived in, explaining that this would better help "Brent" answer my question.
It seemed a little odd, but that screen also contained a lot of information about Brent: He's worked as a senior tech support analyst for 12 years, has answered 2,308 questions with a customer satisfaction rate of 97 percent. And he lives in Montana.
It seemed the least I could do was tell Brent my name and what state I live in. So I did.
I waited less than a minute (Brent's group apparently works for speed) before the next screen popped up announcing that Brent had my answer and would be glad to send it for $28.
Huh? How does a $28 answer factor into the "Free Help" category?
Realizing that this "help" meant giving my credit card info online to a questionable entity, and realizing that my own kids could eventually help me figure this out anyway, my decision to disengage myself from this "free help" came easy.
Or so I thought.
I clicked the red box to leave the screen and another box popped up asking in capital letters, "ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO LEAVE?"
Um, yeah, I'm sure. I clicked that red box.
Another screen popped up, "HOW MUCH ARE YOU WILLING TO PAY FOR YOUR NEEDED ANSWER."
So now we're negotiating?
This was crazy. I clicked a total of six screens before I was finally rid of this annoying, "free" help.
Or so I thought.
About 30 minutes later my phone rang. It was a young man who told me in scripted terms that his company had detected a terrible virus in my computer, that it was at great risk, that it was going to crash within a few days and that if I would go sit down in front of my computer and turn it on, he would talk me through the steps necessary to save my computer.
It slowly dawned on me that I was talking to "Brent." Brent doesn't live in Montana. He lives in India. And somehow Brent knew my phone number, even though I didn't give it to him.
I didn't feel like talking with Brent, primarily because I suspected what I had to say to him wasn't on his script.
So I told Brent no thanks. Over and over.
Finally, I hung up on him.
I called my daughter-in-law, who came and checked my computer, found no virus, got my printer running, and stayed for ice cream.
Here's what can be learned from this:
There's still no such thing as a free lunch -- or free help. And sometimes if you check into the free help and don't like what you see and turn away, it will chase you down the street.
"Brents" are not necessarily who or what they seem.
And for a bowl of ice cream, I can get my printer cartridge replaced free of charge. With a lot less annoyance.
This is sometimes a very crazy world.
Louise Brown may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.