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The Dark Side Of Digital: Managing The Dissatisfaction

Let me begin by saying that I love technology, or at least CE and information/computing technology. While I am not compelled to get the latest the soonest, I will get it, and well before anyone else I know (read: 99 percent of the population).

However, there comes a time when even I have to stop and say “Enough!” And if I am at or close to that point-which I am-what can we say about the other 230 million-plus people in this country who see no reason to buy the industry’s latest, now or ever? And what, if anything, can be done about it?

First, the problem. Let me tell you what’s going on in my life these days.

My local phone company finally got their technician to come to my office to install enhanced DSL, which will enable my partner and me to share one DSL line among our computers. That’s good. Don’t we all want a bigger “pipe” so we can view all of the wonderful content that is out there, and so we can receive and send our important e-mail much quicker?

But the visit only occurred after the company had scheduled four previous installation appointments and stood me up in each case after I waited each day from 7 in the morning until 7 at night. And when they finally did get it installed, I then spent another five hours with another technician who came in to network our computers so we could share our new fat pipe and all of our important data. All for only $500.

During this same time I have also been experiencing repeated screen lockups on my $3,200 “they don’t come any better than this” laptop computer. Yes, I know, I could have paid and done with less, but you just can’t have too much technology, you know. No one, least of all me, seems to know what the problem is, but there appears to be a consensus forming that I should upgrade to Windows 2000 being that it’s a lot more “stable.”

OK. An important guy like me needs stability, and besides, it’s an increase of 1,902 over my Windows 98, so that’s got to be good right? We’ll see this weekend. It only cost me $300 for the software and probably about that much for my tech to install. And after that there will be the untold hundreds of dollars that I will need to spend upgrading third-party software that is not compatible with Windows 2000.

Let’s see, what else? Oh yeah, a little over a year ago I bought a top-brand 16:9 HD-ready TV. Since I cannot receive a terrestrial signal where I live, I chose to wait until my high-tech satellite company came out with a high-tech satellite receiver, which they did this past fall. So now I receive, oh I don’t know, about 10 or 12 thousand channels of analog stuff, along with one free HBO high-definition channel and one high-def pay-per-view channel that airs movies I have either never heard of or saw on an airplane two or three years ago.

But there is one problem: The image quality of the analog broadcasts, which is 99.9999999 percent of what I can receive, is lower since the addition of the high-def receiver. Why is that? An endless parade of TV and satellite techs seem to suggest, but not with certainty, that the high-def receiver is not very good at processing analog signals-a fact that was not pointed out when I bought the TV or the receiver.

Should I have gone to all of this expense and aggravation? Would I do it again knowing what I know now? More important, will the masses, which research project after research project indicates have much less tolerance for this sort of thing than I do, be interested? I don’t think so.

Some years ago I was moderating consumer focus groups for Compaq, which wanted to know what new and cool things consumers wanted from PCs. They had dreamed up some stuff that I happened to think was kind of neat, but guess the reaction from the majority of participants: Just make the machines that we have do what you promised they would do when we bought them, they opined, and nothing more.

In other words, “Don’t tell us about the new stuff until we understand and can use what we already have.” I can understand that, as should you as you attempt to sell technology to consumers.

William Matthies is a partner in Coyote Insight, an information and planning company. He can be reached at (714) 626-0680 or [email protected].