As evidenced by the recent TV commercial where electronic gizmo after electronic gizmo fails including the fridge dispensing ice onto the floor, it’s clear to me that we don’t put too much faith in our modern technology. Perhaps it’s our Luddite and Puritan roots.
Oh! We enjoy the convenience alright, but our overarching perspective is that it will all eventually come crashing down to its inevitable culmination in which the robots rise up and, in a Terminator-esque pique, render humanity obsolete.
But the truth is, our warp-speed-ahead technology works far more often than it doesn’t. Perhaps the reason a DSL downturn sends us into such a tizzy is because that suddenly necessary network works so much more often than it doesn’t.
And when the DSL does fail, more often than not it’s the human element that creates the hitch in our digital giddyup. As AT&T just loves to tell their customers, “It’s not us — it’s you!” Perhaps we would be better off with Roomba overlords after all.
But I digress!
I choose to embrace this accelerating technology trend if for no other reason than one semi-sane individual can now accomplish what formerly took the weight of a vast commercial enterprise to undertake.
Some say Lincoln was the Great Emancipator, but not me! It’s the Internet that truly set this businessman free. And here’s a perfect precedent.
Though I’m tempted to end the column here with the astounding fact that I can sell my product all over world, an unthinkable small-entrepreneur endeavor just two short decades ago, it’s something we take for granted.
It’s the capacity to interact with those international customers that made me start thinking about naming the Eighth Wonder.
It all started when I sold one of my inventions to a German ebayer who didn’t quite grasp the whole online auction concept. He bid on two when he only wanted one and then, as anyone who’s ever shipped USPS First Class International already knows, he had no clue just how capricious customs personnel can be.
And once again, it was the human element that was our downfall.
Because when this German gentleman unilaterally determined the package should’ve arrived in a scant 1.5 weeks, he filed a claim. But instead of doing it on ebay proper, he did it on ebay Deutschland.
Despite Frau Lazar’s finest efforts to make me fluent in that not quite poetic tongue (my father said a German brassier was called a gestoppen gefloppen), I pretty much retain the knowledge Father Guido Sarducci described in his Five Minute University.
Guten tag, wie gehts, and wo ist die Bibliothek is about all I can remember.
Given the language barrier, and terrified of responding to the buyer’s claim incorrectly, I called those fine ebay folks at 7 in the morning. Of course, I wound up in India, which is another column entirely, but God bless “Mark” who realized he couldn’t help and sent me back to the States.
But Christie couldn’t sort this out either. Though she understood my sad plight, because the claim was filed in Germany, she said I had to speak with those folks. And Christie assured me they all spoke perfect English.
So at 7:20 on a Wednesday morning it was off to Germany! When a perfectly polite Hans picked up the phone and I managed to stutter, “Sprechen sie Englisch?,” to my profound dismay, he replied, “Ein bischen” (a little).
With no other option available, we resorted to an international game of 20 questions. Hans would issue a statement like, “I see the customer has filed a claim,” and I would respond “ja” or “nein.” And my efforts to interject the GHS Spanish we’re helping my son learn didn’t help matters any.
Thankfully, Hans and I did manage to come to terms, but we did get to the point where his English was expended and our binary communication strategy would no long work. So I turned to the Google Translator, set it to German and said, “Der Käufer nicht verstehen, es kann 30 Tage.”
And God bless Frau Lazar, Hans understood every word and replied, “Do you have the postal number?” When I proceeded to reel it off in perfect Deutsch, Hans replied, Wunderbar!” As he looked the parcel up, I triumphantly declared, “Es ist zu fruh!,” and Hans agreed, “It is too early to make a claim.”
“Würden Sie sagen, der Käufer diese?” I pleaded in Google-ese. Han’s assured me he would, indeed, let the buyer know. Amazed at how far we’d come in 15 short minutes, we simultaneously started laughing our hinterns off and concluded the conversation with a universal “ciao!”
Armed with a little persistence, a dash of ingenuity and the use of a magnificent translation technology formerly available to only Starfleet personnel, a lone Geneva businessman managed to resolve a rather sticky business situation without provoking an international incident.
I’m moving on to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis next. Shalom!