The Power of Our Tattoos

Today is as good a time as any to let you in on a little secret: I don’t have a single tattoo. When we’re out together, this is one of the only ways the photographers can tell the difference between Angelina Jolie and me. It’s so convenient for us all, especially Brad, bless his heart!

The fact that I’ve chosen to remain untattooed confirms a Pew Research Center study that found only 10% of Americans over 41 are tattooed, while among 18-25-year-olds, the figure is 33.3%, and in the 25-40 year-old set — which includes the 36-year-old Ms. Jolie —  it’s an eye-popping 40%.

And they’re keeping the country’s estimated 15,000 tattoo parlors busy: it’s a $2.3 billion a year business, according to a 2010 report. No Obama bailout for them.

TATTOOS ARE NEITHER A NEW PHENOMENON NOR — AS SOME FEAR — OMENS OF AN IMMINENT ARMAGEDDON 

Despite their lack of popularity among the over-41 set, tattoos have enjoyed a long, checkered (as well as polka-dotted, striped, snaked, astrologically signed, etc.) history.

Five Priceless Tips to Prevent Call Center Derangement Syndrome

Dear Belladonna Rogers,

I’m a tech-savvy guy, but like most of us, I have to call tech support from time to time. When this happens, I get angry.

Do you have any advice for dealing with this?  The calls, the waiting time, the computerized voices and endless menus of options are enough to make me want to become a Luddite, but it’s too late to turn back now.

Aggravated in Atlanta

Dear Aggravated,

Few statements are more ludicrous, or more insulting to our individual and collective intelligence, than the cloyingly ubiquitous,  “Your call is very important to us.”

No, actually, it’s not. If our calls were even remotely important to you, you’d hire more people to answer our very important calls.  They aren’t and you don’t.

The phenomenon of call center-induced derangement syndrome has even inspired a web site devoted, as its name states, to providing telephone numbers most likely to connect you to an actual human being at some point in the course of your natural life: GetHuman.com.

The following five rules start with the moment you first realize you have to call for help: a moment in many lives that’s frustration-fraught, rage-filled, and impatience-driven.  You’re often as annoyed with yourself as with the glitch — for being unable to solve the problem without turning to a stranger in the night thousands of miles away.  That stranger, you fear, will rob you of the most precious commodity there is: your time.

Before you dial the number, remember this:  you’re calling from a dark void of 21st century anguish. You need a guide, a Sherpa, who’s resourceful, trustworthy, energetic and has the patience to stick with you until the problem is solved.  You won’t be friends for life, but for a brief time, you’ll be zealous partners with a single goal.

Following these five simple rules can make the difference between a long, painful, anger-increasing, and ultimately failed partnership, and a brief, reasonably calm, successful one.

RULE 1: STEP AWAY FROM THE TELEPHONE.  

INITIATE YOUR CALL ONLY AFTER YOU CALM DOWN

Your instinct is to begin one of these calls when you’ve reached  the end of your rope. Don’t. Just as road rage is dangerous and counter-productive, so is device-malfunction rage.

Before calling that 1-800 number, take a brisk walk, run in place, or listen to this:

Rule 2: DON’T JUST STAND THERE, DO SOMETHING

Before placing the call, make sure you’re prepared: do two things: first, have a household or office task to complete: organizing your sock drawer, filing papers, alphabetizing your spices, reading a book, responding to emails — whatever it is, plan to get something accomplished while on hold.

Second, before initiating the call, find the serial number and model number of the device.  You’re going to need them and it’ll save time later if you have this information before you start.

RULE 3: DON’T LET THE OPTION MENU GET YOU DOWN

Option menus are among the banes of modern life, but try to approach them as speed bumps on the road to recovering your hard drive rather than as mortar attacks on all you hold dear. Option menus are, by their very existence, annoying. Ask yourself this: is your irritation at an option menu worth a heart attack?

A.  THE SPANISH OPTION

When you hear the inevitable announcement about continuing in Spanish, try not to re-examine the entire political controversy over whether the United States should be a bilingual nation or solely an English-speaking country.  Your goal is to focus on getting your technical problem solved. If you want to speak English, that’s still an option.  If you prefer to discuss your problem in Spanish, go for it.

B.  THEIR OPTIONS HAVE NOT “RECENTLY CHANGED”; IF YOU REMEMBER THE OPTION YOU USED THE LAST TIME, USE IT AGAIN THIS TIME

Your next source of exasperation will be the warning not to press any numbers you may have pressed as recently as say, an hour ago, because – you know it’s coming – “our options have recently changed.”  You’ll be tempted to think, “What if their options really have changed?”  It’s the “recently” that will get you every time. How recently?

Wasting even more time, you listen to the same list of options you heard last month, last year, or when Chicago Cubs last won the World Series. You were right in the first place: the “5” you pressed in 2007 is still the number to press today.

C. THE $64,000 QUESTION:

“CAN YOU TELL US IN YOUR OWN WORDS THE REASON FOR YOUR CALL?”

Now comes the greatest challenge, especially for women whose voices are invariably not recognized by the computerized “ears” that have been programmed to “understand” only men’s deeper voices.

I recommend doing an end-run around this question.  Just say,

“Twas brillig, and the slithy tove

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.”

These nonsensical words from Lewis Carroll’s 1871 “Jabberwocky” are just the ticket to connect you to another human being.  “Sorry,” the computerized voice will respond, “I didn’t understand you.”

You couldn’t get a better response than this, especially if you’re not understood three consecutive times.  This will automatically trigger a default mechanism that rewards you with the chance to wait to converse with a fellow member of our species.

“I’ll connect you to an agent,” the computerized woman’s voice says. “You may hear silence until you’re connected.”

You won’t hear silence.  Instead, you’ll be treated to the most jarring, brain-jangling jingle ever recorded, played on a sadistically endless loop until you finally do hear a human voice.

D. TIME TO ORGANIZE THE SOCK DRAWER, ALPHABETIZE YOUR SPICE RACK, OR FINISH THAT FILE WORK FROM LAST WEEK OR 1999 

The wait begins.  This is when you’ll hear how very important your call is.  Many companies will also tell you how many minutes you’re likely to wait. If it’s more than one minute, place the call on speaker and apply yourself to whatever task you’ve decided to accomplish: finish the dishes, clean the kitchen counter, read a book, re-arrange your sock drawer. Plot a crime you’ll never commit but would deeply enjoy if you did.

When you hear that special click that signals that you’re about to speak to a human, this is when you have to pay particular attention. The agent will introduce him- or herself and will ask how he or she can help you.

RULE 4: DECIDE ASAP IF THIS IS THE AGENT WHO CAN HELP YOU — OR NOT

A. THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT NANO-SECOND OF THE CALL

You have to decide on the spot, based on how the person answers the call, whether you want to spend the next 20-60 minutes of your life with that person.  It’s a little like speed dating on speed.  With speed dating, you’re offered as many as eight minutes to decide whether someone is for you.  With a tech support call, you have eight seconds.

Your decision will determine whether your problem will be solved by an experienced, customer-attentive agent or not solved by an uninterested, unmotivated one.  You’ll want both a technical wizard and a person who conveys clarity of expression, patience, persistence, resolve and diligence.

While it’s better to make the decision as quickly as possible, if you’re unable to make it in the first eight seconds, then make it in the first five minutes.  If after five minutes you’ve gotten nowhere in solving your problem, say, “Thank you, I have to go now,” and start the wretched process over again, rather than lose even more precious minutes of your one and only life.

How do you make a snap decision based on one sentence at the other end of the line?

B. WHAT TO AVOID

Here’s what you don’t want to hear at the other end: someone who sounds tired or fails to speak up (mumbling rather than stating clearly, “Hi, my name is Sylvia .  How can I help you?”)  If what you hear is, “himynameissylviahowcanihelpyou,” Sylvia may be insufficiently awake, alert or communicative to be of any assistance.  On the other hand, if the agent sounds overdosed on uppers and ready to speed over to a high school football pep rally — “Hey! What’s happenin’ today, dude?” — he or she may be too pumped to address your profoundly tedious issue.

C. WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR IN THE VOICE AT THE OTHER END

What you do want to hear is someone alert, awake, confident, and focused.

RULE 5: WHAT YOU CAN ACTIVELY DO TO MAKE THE CALL GO BETTER

A.    LISTEN FOR AND THEN USE THE PERSON’S NAME

If you miss it the first time, just ask, “Did you say your name was Barry?” Once agents hear you using their names, it tends to instill a higher degree of motivation to do their best.

B. YOUR GOOD MANNERS AND PATIENT ATTITUDE WILL PRODUCE A BETTER RESULT AND WILL DO SO MORE QUICKLY THAN A SOUR OR CRANKY ONE

Try not to begin on the wrong foot.  The person you’ve reached did not cause your problem.  Someone in his or her company may have done so, by constructing a device in such a way that your problem could all too easily arise (after all, it didarise), but don’t hold that against the agent on the line.

You’ll have far better experience if you begin with a greeting such as, “Hi, Sylvia, How are you?” and then a quick sentence of self-introduction. You could say, “I’m usually good at tech issues but today I’m up against a problem that’s beyond me.  I need your help.”  Or, in the alternative, “I’m a techno-failure and I really need your help if I’m ever going to talk on my cell phone again.” Things go better if you sound like a real person, not just a problem with an angry voice attached to it.

C.  KNOW WHEN TO CUT YOUR LOSSES AND HANG UP

If the agent is reading from a poorly-devised script and keeps repeating the same lines even after you did what you were told, and have clearly stated that the suggested action didn’t work, it’s time to say goodbye. When you ask,Could we try something else, please?” and the answer is a robotic re-reading from the same script, cut your losses and say, “Thanks. I have to go.”

If you cannot understand what the agent is saying, this is not a shortcoming that’s going to improve in the course of a single phone call, so ring off and call back.  It will save time.

D.  IF YOU GET GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE AND GOOD TECH SUPPORT, DO THIS

Take one extra minute and ask to speak to the agent’s supervisor to tell the supervisor what a great job the agent has done.  Your words of praise will be added to the agent’s personnel file, and you’ll have made the supervisor’s day: normally, they only hear complaints.

A BLESSING IN DISGUISE

 With a modicum of patience, good manners and clear communication you’ll (a) achieve the goal of solving your technical problem, (b) have the best-organized sock drawer in your zip code, and (c) have contributed a positive comment to the agent’s personnel file. Who knew that three such delightful benefits could flow from a single technical glitch?

Why, with enough calls to tech support, by the end of the year you could get your entire home and office whipped into shape — and who says you can’t do thigh lifts and push-ups while waiting to hear the agent’s voice?

Don’t think of your next glitch as an undeserved punishment.  It’s a priceless opportunity.

—Belladonna Rogers

 

Teen Girl on FB Acts Like Teen Girl on FB: Dad Shoots Her Laptop

Unbeknownst to many other Americans, upwards of 26 million Americans have now watched a Youtube video created by one Tommy Jordan, a North Carolina father, an IT specialist and a potential reality show folk hero, in which he lectures his 15-year-old daughter about life in general and her life in particular.

The climax, and I mean climax, comes as he points his 45 at her laptop, lying on the patchy winter lawn outside his house, and shoots it full of nine exploding hollow-point bullets.  As he fires into the laptop, he tells his daughter she now owes him not only for the $130 worth of software he spent six hours the day before installing for her, gratis, but also for the cost of the bullets themselves, “about a dollar apiece.” Nice touch.

Why did he do this?  To teach his daughter a lesson.

What did she do that provoked this dramatic form of education?

She behaved like a rebellious, entitled, self-centered adolescent.  In other words, she was just doing what comes naturally to many in their teens.  Specifically, she chose to air her differences with her father on her Facebook wall in the mistaken belief that it was visible only to her FB friends. “To My Parents,” she’d written, and then unloaded her grievances.

What she didn’t take into account — hello? — is that her father is an IT guy.  He got behind her firewall and produced a fire wall of his own — all over her laptop.

Or, to be accurate, her ex-laptop.

In a well-spoken, indignant rant that might remind some — in part — of one of the finer Monty Python skits ever (The Four Yorkshiremen), Mr. Jordan informs his daughter that when he was 15, he was not only in high school, but was also studying in college at the same time and had a two paying jobs and was a volunteer fireman.  His daughter, whose only responsibilities in life, as he puts it, are to do a few household chores, which by his estimate, take well under ten minutes a day, get up in the morning, and get on the school bus.

Speaking for a generation of parents who had to lug heavy typewriters if they wanted to write anything that wasn’t hand-written, and had to put a dime, later upped to a quarter, into the coin slot of  an invariably inconveniently-located pay phone in order to make a telephone call when not at home, Mr. Jordan’s indignation has spread across the land as did the most memorable line of the 1976  movie, Network“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”  Although now, in 2012, that outrage is viral and on steroids, thanks to Youtube.

The Youtube has, unsurprisingly, sparked an avalanche of comments, the vast majority cheering him on as “Father of the Year,” another simply writing, “Justice.”  A small minority of others ask bluntly, “Are you nuts?” and “This is how you teach your daughter a lesson?”

As of this writing, the video that first went live on February 8th has garnered 289,058 “likes” and 27,053 “dislikes.”  The ayes definitely have it in the country at large.

Here on PJM?  Only you can say.

h/t: Soccer Mom

Why Apologies Matter

Dear Belladonna Rogers,

Recently, someone who didn’t realize we’d once been close, introduced me to a former friend. Years ago, my former friend did something no friend should ever do, which is why we became ex-friends. When we were introduced, my ex-friend extended her hand but I withheld mine, which I’ve never done in my life.

To my surprise, a few days later I received a heartfelt letter of apology from my ex-friend expressing remorse for her dreadful behavior, which she outlined in the same detail that I too remembered, from many years ago. I responded immediately, forgiving her, and saying how rare it is to receive such an apology.

Why are apologies so rare? Do people believe that by not owning up to their errors and the harm they’ve caused that no one will be the wiser?

Puzzled in Peoria

Dear Puzzled,

Many see an apology as a sign of weakness, believing that only the weak apologize. Since ancient times, the vulnerable have depended on the strong. Slaves bowed and apologized to owners; serfs apologized to feudal lords; courtiers apologized to royalty; employees apologized to employers. The reverse was considered unthinkable.

This tradition is unfortunately still with us: for the powerless, apologies are mandatory; for the powerful, they’re unnecessary.

This shouldn’t exist in modern life but it does, partly because many behave as if they’re “Masters of the Universe,” in Tom Wolfe’s apt phrase from his 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities

When one friend hurts another, a caring friend apologizes at once. The Master or Mistress of the Universe doesn’t: it’s the difference between being empathic and being arrogant.

Some people have more trouble apologizing than others.  As the gifted psychoanalyst Dr. Nancy McWilliams has written, narcissists have particular difficulty expressing remorse because to them it implies fallibility and personal error, admissions that are psychologically intolerable to such people.

Apologies can be difficult for everyone. An apology includes a clear statement of one’s error or offense, such as being disrespectful, underhanded, mean-spirited, deceitful, disloyal, unfair, hurtful, condescending, inconsiderate, insulting, heartless, cruel, abusive, as well as negligent, careless, feckless, and reckless.

Is it pleasant to acknowledge that you’ve been any of these?  No. It takes self-awareness, backbone, and a strong desire to do right by another human being.

Apologies matter if you value a relationship.

If you imagine that by procrastinating or refusing to apologize you’ll evade responsibility forever and make the damage you produced vanish into thin air, you’re fooling only yourself. Your friends or family members may no longer mention the injury you caused, but that doesn’t mean a painful, unhealed wound doesn’t remain. It’s never too late to apologize, even decades after you inflicted harm. But, as Benjamin Franklin said, “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”

If you don’t know what you’ve done to hurt or alienate someone: ask. Don’t offer a vague, blanket apology “for anything I may have done” or peremptorily insist that the injured person “forget about this; it isn’t important.”  These tactics show greater concern for yourself — and your need to “get past this unpleasantness” with transparently empty, unfeeling words — than for the person you’ve hurt.

A real, rather than a pro forma, apology also expresses genuine remorse.

What doesn’t constitute an apology is a one-word, “Sorry,” except for minimal inconveniences. For anything serious, “sorry” is a brush-off masquerading as an apology. If you seek to minimize the gravity of the harm you inflicted, then “sorry” will convey that. Like a shrug accompanied by “Whatever,” it expresses casual dismissal.

As is often noted, an apology is invalidated by the weaselly word “if” — as in, “I’m sorry if I did anything to offend you.” Nor should an apology blame the injured person for being hurt, as in, “I’m sorry you were upset.” Both forms of pseudo-apology fail to take responsibility for causing the other person’s distress and implicitly criticize the victim for his or her reasonable response to mistreatment.

It takes a mature and psychologically secure human being to offer a genuine apology. Far from being a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. An employer who apologizes for an unfair outburst to an employee will gain greater respect, not lose face.

It also takes a decent person to forgive. Indeed, there’s a moral imperative to forgive if you believe the apology is genuine, if you can forgive in good faith, and if the offense is, in fact, forgivable — which not all are.

You don’t have to stroll arm-in-arm into the mist with the person who’s apologized to you, although a genuine apology can be the beginning – or the continuation — of a beautiful friendship.  If not, it will at least put an honorable end to a relationship, like a firm period instead of an emotionally irritating semi-colon.

— Belladonna Rogers

The House of Representatives, the Senate and…the light bulb

You betcha I’m worked up over this.  But according to the knowledgeable, not to mention illuminating Coral Davenport, the energy and environment correspondent of  National Journal, the possibility of changing the Light Bulb law is DOA. The ill-considered 2007 law that will end reading by electrical light as we know it will go into effect as ill-planned, in 2012.

As Ms. Davenport writes, to my sorrow, “Despite all the political crossfire over lightbulbs, it’s unlikely that Republicans will succeed: The House vote will take place under a procedural rule requiring a two-thirds majority, which makes it uncertain whether it will pass—while it is certain to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R. Va., had scheduled a vote for Monday evening, but it’s being pushed back until Tuesday, his office said Monday morning.

“The provision requires that by 2012, lightbulb manufacturers produce bulbs that generate the same amount of light but use less electricity to do it. It would not outlaw incandescent bulbs, nor mandate production of the curlicue-shaped compact fluorescent bulbs…

“At the time it was introduced, the legislation was championed by Democratic and Republican leaders alike. The original 2007 lightbulb efficiency language was cosponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Ill. It passed easily through the House Energy and Commerce Committee and was added as an amendment to a bill that passed the Senate by a vote of 86-8, passed the House by a vote of 314-100, and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.”

I could go on, but I have to rush out  to Home Depot to scoop up what’s left of the greatness of the 20th century.  I feel toward our country now as did the British Foreign Secretary toward Europe on the eve of the First World War.  It was reportedly  Sir Edward Grey, who, standing at dusk at his window in the Foreign Office, looking out as the gas street lamps were being ignited, memorably said, “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.”