Virtuality with David Schultz

Virtuality: the nexus between the virtual and the real, the place where the virtual becomes real and reality becomes virtual, a matrix of appearances.

Apple Tech Support or Pop Psychology?

April 7, 2000 - David Schultz

We just bought a new PowerBook (FireWire) 400. We love it to death! It has changed our lives. My first true love is the new G4/450 sitting in my study. But my new true love is the Pismo, which I take everywhere. I sit on the couch and surf and even write articles. Yes, we love it.

I know that PowerBooks are called "lap warmers," and for good reason: They do get warm underneath. That is the way it is. But we noticed something more: The trackpad button on the Pismo gets really, really hot - almost too hot to touch at times. It does not happen all the time, just when the battery is being recharged through the AC adapter. When it is recharging, the trackpad button gets very hot; the trackpad is okay, but the button is gets hot. What follows is a log of my experiences with Apple tech support on this issue. Let me say this up front: I was not happy with their response. It seemed more like pop psychology than an honest search for the truth. Let me explain.

The first call was to a level-one tech. He was kind and helpful. He had me reset the power manager because that determines how the power is distributed through the machine. It didn't help. So he said he would have a level-two tech call me. At least he seemed concerned and realized that I thought I had a problem. It was a good experience overall.

That was two weeks ago. The level-two tech never called. So I called them on March 30. Here's what happened. Notice how the response becomes more and more subjective.

The level-two tech was nice enough, too, but I got the impression he was trained to make an end user feel that there is no problem, even when the end user thinks there is. In fact, he seemed more interested in trying to convince me that there was no problem than in taking the time to discover if there really was one! He made it known that a very hot trackpad button is "normal." Um . . . am I abnormal?

I explained the situation to him. He gave me three reasons for heat. First, laptops run hot. Well, I already knew that. This seemed like a test: "Tell the end user the obvious, and if he protests, then you are dealing with a knowledgeable end user and other tactics are required."

So I asked about the fan, and he said it is designed not to come on until the machine hits about 150-180 degrees, which my machine has not even gotten close to. So he offered the next insight: "The Pismo is much thinner and so there is less room between the power supply and the trackpad (which is just above it)." Okay, I thought, I understand this. But again I protested: "I have received messages from forums about what others are experiencing, and no one has the same complaint. Besides, it is really, really hot, and I can't believe it should be this hot."

This was the end of the line. To this point he had given me some facts which were mostly objective. They also made sense overall, but failed, in my mind, to explain the problem. Now the call took an inner turn. He began to talk less about facts and more about, well, my psychology. "People's sense of touch is different. You may just have a greater sensitivity to heat than others. That's the way it is in my family. I am not being rude, I just am saying it differs from person to person. I can eat hot food, but my wife cannot."

I knew at this point that he would listen to no more protests. I am a trained philosopher, for crying out loud - I debate all day long. But I was left speechless at this point. How can one disagree with a statement like this? Sure, heat sensitivity is different, and some philosophers even deny that there is such a thing as heat apart from a mind. But what on earth does this have to do with my problem? If I think it is too hot, then that is a problem to me.

I knew at this point I had one more avenue to travel down. Sure, I can accept a subjective explanation, but what if others have the same complaint? That would seem to take it out of the sphere of subjectivity and at least partially into facts. So I asked, "Have you received other calls about this issue?" Pause. "No."

I gave up. Imagine what would have come next. It could have grown weirder: "Beyond a sensitivity to heat, you might just be imagining it - or maybe you dreamed it, or maybe you are really a brain in a vat and all experiences are programmed into you by an evil programmer. . . ." That seemed to be the direction it was going anyway. I started to doubt myself. Was that the goal he had?

A few days later I told this story to another Mac user. He said that he had AppleCare and always got superb service. Perhaps, he suggested, if I had AppleCare, then I would have received a better answer and service. What?!?! To me this was the same as saying, "If you pay Apple, then you'll get the truth. If you want honest answers, then it'll cost you." Do techs really have two sets of answers, one for regular customers and one for AppleCare customers? The advantage of AppleCare is speed and extent of coverage, not the truth, isn't it? I can only say I hope this is not the case. It is downright Microsoft, in fact!

Now I am stuck. I will be taking my Pismo to a service tech here in town to have things checked out and verified. A bad battery? Something wrong with the power supply? Or maybe bad design, putting a power supply underneath a plastic trackpad button in a thinner machine?

I will try to get some facts that cannot be psychologically explained away by a level-two tech. But my experience this time around was simple: His job seems to be to talk us out of problems, to convince us things are normal when we think they are not. I would have liked at least some effort from him, some kind of acknowledgment that there might be a problem - and then an attempted solution. At least a test or something. Anything! I just wanted him to try. But it seemed that the fact I may really have a problem never even crossed his mind. Sure, talk me out of anything. Just recognize that I think there's a problem. I have had pretty good experiences with Apple tech in the past. But this one just rubbed me the wrong way.

We'd like to get some feedback on this. I don't mean about level-two techs, but whether your Pismo trackpad button gets too hot. What has your experience been?

I'll keep you up to date. . . . LEM

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