Friday, September 4, 2009

My doomed relationship with Telecom

(First published in The Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, September 1.)

LIKE a marriage turned bad, my relationship with Telecom seems doomed at every turn. Everything this company does seems calculated to antagonise me.

A couple of weeks ago they sent me a letter wittering unintelligibly about skateboards, confirming my impression that the marketing people at Telecom assume the entire civilised world is populated by infantile Generation-Xers.

The letter then lurched into impenetrable nerd-speak about the download speeds available under the new broadband deal Telecom was offering.

Not being interested in “powering through downloads” and “blasting through online videos”, as if this were the pinnacle of human aspiration, I binned the letter. But a few days later I got a call from a Telecom sales rep trying to interest me in the same upgrade.

She got off to the usual unpromising start – mispronouncing my name, then asking me, with patently artificial enthusiasm, how my day was going. Aaargh! But the deal sounded good. The rep explained that I could get a free modem worth $199 and all I had to do was stay with Telecom for the next 24 months.

Inexplicably, I said yes. This was the equivalent of a naïve tourist accepting a cab ride from a Moroccan refugee with no teeth, a glass eye and a battered 1963 Peugeot who promises to undercut the authorised taxi firms and ends up driving the passenger from Wellington Airport into the city via Waikanae and Upper Hutt.

No sooner had I indicated my acceptance than the Telecom rep began to recite, at machinegun speed, a series of conditions, caveats and disclaimers that suddenly made the deal seem a lot less attractive. I politely suggested that perhaps those conditions should have been spelled out beforehand, then withdrew my consent.

I now distrust Telecom so much that I’m not interested in hearing about freebies. I start from the assumption there are going to be fishhooks.

* * *

IF THERE were a public poll to identify New Zealand’s most loathed company, it’s a fair bet Telecom would be a contender for No 1. If we could view chief executive Paul Reynolds’ contract, we’d probably discover that a large portion of his $5 million-plus income package consists of an odium allowance similar in concept, if not in the amount involved, to the one that used to be paid to journalists working for the scandal-mongering New Zealand Truth to compensate for public opprobrium.

Interestingly, Telecom seems to employ an army of public relations people. This confirms The Curmudgeon’s First Law of PR: that the more PR flunkeys you employ, the lousier your public image is likely to be.

Since I’m on the subject, I might as well unburden myself about other companies I detest.

I share with millions of other computer users a visceral dislike for Microsoft. Here’s a company that has grown to be one of the biggest in the world despite being as non-user-friendly as it could possibly be. It shakes one’s faith in the otherwise wondrous virtues of capitalism.

I’ve written before about Microsoft Word’s endearing habit of shutting down without warning while you’re in the middle of writing something, resulting in the loss of your last half hour’s work.

This is the equivalent of your car engine suddenly cutting out during peak-hour traffic in the middle of the Mt Vic Tunnel. We wouldn’t put up with it from a car manufacturer but oddly enough we tolerate it from the world’s biggest software company.

Eveready is another brand on my blacklist. In my experience, it’s axiomatic that a torch bearing the Eveready name is unlikely to work. In fact the only thing it will outlast – and then only by the slimmest of margins – is the batteries made by the same company.

There. That feels better.

* * *

I KNEW two weeks before it happened that the Wellington Lions had lost the Ranfurly Shield. I knew it the moment I unwrapped my Dom Post and a glossy Wellington Lions poster fell out.

Designed in the mythic style made fashionable by The Lord of the Rings, the poster portrayed the team as invincible, stony-faced warriors posing against a brooding sky. Shafts of golden light penetrated the clouds, presumably indicating the blessing of the rugby gods. In the foreground was a large male lion, symbol of masculine virility.

Oddly enough all the players seemed to be wearing black stockings, which I thought rather spoiled the effect.

Now I must be careful what I say here, for this esteemed newspaper is one of the team’s sponsors. But the thought occurred to me that rugby players who allow themselves to be mythologised like this are inviting retribution. Pride cometh before a fall, after all.

Alas, rugby has fallen into the hands of advertising agencies and marketing hucksters. It’s no longer the national sport. It’s a brand – or, to use All Black coach Graham Henry’s telling terminology, a “product”. Mark my words, no good will come of this.

In ancient Rome, conquering generals leading triumphal parades through the streets of the city had a slave alongside them whispering in their ear: “Memento mori” (remember, you are mortal). Maybe the Rugby Union should adopt the practice.

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