Dept of If I'd Known 20 Years Ago: Call centres, roosting chickens, and Bitcoin

Getting it half-right means you got it half-wrong


Something for the Weekend, Sir? Give me a moment, I'm on another call. Hello? Hello? … Oh, it's just a recorded message assuring me that my call is important to them. Of course it is: it's a premium-rate helpline.

If my future self had travelled back in time to tell me 20 years ago that being kept on hold indefinitely would continue to be the bane of customer support deep into the new century, I'd have, ooh, I'd have… Well, I supposed I'd have checked into a mental hospital on account of hearing voices. But you get my point.

It remains a mystery why there is never a sufficient quantity of call centre staff to deal with my solitary call. These call centres seem to have plenty of people on tap when it comes to phoning me up just as I'm sitting down to dinner. All that "high volume of calls" is merely a ruse to get me to hang up so that their unsolicited outgoing sales calls can get through.

Things got worse during 2020 because call centre staff have been forced to work from home. Normally this would be manageable but bear in mind that in 2021 the company you are calling has probably outsourced its call centre to India, which has re-outsourced it to Vietnam, which in turn has re-re-outsourced it to Barnsley.

The stressed-out customer service assistants are probably trying to access your account details through a triple-level cumulative hierarchy of shit company VPNs, while in the next room their kids are home-schooling on the same DSL line with the help of online hairdressing influencers explaining how to fix their hair with Gorilla Glue, dry it with a blowtorch and comb a centre parting with a shotgun.

If I could go back in time, what would I warn my younger, less grumpy self about the future? Like all angelic messages, my warnings would be contradictory and impossible to decipher.

For example, I would tell myself that while I was absolutely correct to dismiss Bitcoin as one part cock and two parts buggeration, I should go buy some anyway. I would warn myself that craptocurrency values will become wildly unstable; that purchases of faulty goods using crapto cannot be refunded; that they're about as secure as a voluntary lending library bookshelf in a derelict roadside telephone box; and that by the second week of February 2021, even the tiniest micropurchase you make with Bitcoin would cost you $12.46 in transaction fees alone.

You can imagine how this sort of thing confused Nostradamus. "Morologus es! Verily ye maketh none seeming sense!" he'd yell at his visions. "I yield, mysterious muse of what is to come, and will cast it into ecriture. But es sincerus, it makes me sound proper mental."

This is so typical: my off-the-cuff early opinions on emergent tech always prove to be half-correct. Which also means half-wrong, of course.

Like at the dawn of the new century I very publicly hailed Napster's unmoderated, peer-to-peer distributed file-sharing platform as a glorious but only temporary failure. In the official notes for the MacUser Awards, I enthusiastically wrote about Napster: "One day, all software will be like this."

I cringed for years afterwards every time an ex-colleague reminded me that I'd authored that sentence, especially as the cloud – the precise opposite of P2P – become the dominant force in network data. But given recent renewed interest in the ability to share encrypted personal data without it touching a leaky server or having it churned indefinitely among morality-free corporate spammers, at last I think the tech world is slowly catching up with me.

What other future warnings into my younger shell-like might be worth whispering? Keep taking the piss out of anyone claiming print is dead, or inventing any input device that will supposedly render the keyboard obsolete, or launching a flying taxi service. But shut up about 3D printing being useless other than for creating wonky, melted-candle-like busts of Darth Vader, as you will be left out in the cold on that one.

Ah, let it go. The cold never bothered me anyway.

Keep your eye on the games industryyyyy, my whispers would echo from the future.

"I lost interest in games with the death of 2D platformers," my past self would probably whine.

Shut up and listennnnn, I'd insist. Games will be everywhere (where where where…) and they will run on everything. Eeeeverythingggg…. (ing ing ing…)

"Yeah? Even on critical devices such as, oh, I dunno, vehicle dashboards?"

Yes, Luuuuke, er, I mean Alistaiiiiir, you will be able to play Asterrrrroids and Centipede while sitting in the driving seat in your Tesla (la la la…)

"Centipede? Like on that ancient Nokia brick I threw away five years ago? Are you fucking kidding me?"

Well, yessss my precioussss… I suppose it does sound a bit craaaaap (crap crap crap…)

"Sod that. Wouldn't the ideal car dashboard game be Destruction Derby?"

I'm not sure that's such a good i…

"Burnout? Grand Theft Auto? Carmageddon?"

Look, I have to go, I'm on another caaaaall… They've moved me up to first in the queue (oo oo oo…)

Yet again, my initial reactions will turn out to be only half-wrong so neither my past nor future self can complain. And I don't dare warn myself about 2020. Frankly, I'd never believe the world of bollocks that's happening at the moment.

Talking of bollocks… I think my call to customer services has got through at last.

Hello! Yes, I'm calling about the custom 3D-printed artificial testicles I ordered. Well, I was led to expect you'd be sending me a silicone pair that would match my specific patient anatomy.

You've sent me a Wookie and Baby Yoda.

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He has not really tried to purchase 3D-printed testicles; it was a joke. No, indeed, he is waiting until IoT gonads arrive on the market so that he can operate them remotely. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

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