Watching The Social Network again on DVD I was reminded of my trip to see it in the cinema. The film itself, of course, portrays one of the founding myths of social media: the outsider who uses his mastery of code to set information free and bypass those in power and authority as he goes. But digital technologies are also about control.
In the film, the striations of Harvard University sharply reflect those of America at the gilded end of a gilded age, as money and class wrestle with the liberating demotic potential of the internet. At the cinema, I had a problem with my tickets; by mistake, we’d been sold tickets for another film. But the cinema’s management system didn’t allow the woman on the ticket desk to change them without an authorisation code from her manager, who was nowhere to be found. Anything but liberating. Eventually, as the clock clicked down to the start time, I had to tell her that I wasn’t going to miss it because of the cinema chain’s management system.
Similarly, more recently at Carphone Warehouse, trying to sort out a replacement phone which was fully covered by the company’s insurance, I was told that there would be a delay – possibly of days – because an assistant had previously entered a wrong code on their system and it needed a manager to overwrite the necessary change.
The way both businesses have implemented their technology got in the way of good simple customer service. It tells me another thing too: that they are companies which don’t trust their staff. In other words, they’re not the sort of companies I want to do business with.