Ryan Block wanted to cancel his Comcast service, so he and his wife called Comcast last week to cancel the service. (They had switched to another provider, Block wrote in this SoundCloud post, though of course the reason matters less than the objective.) The conversation did not go well. Block, the former editor of Engadget, wrote that he started recording the conversation with the Comcast customer representative about 10 minutes into the call. You can listen to the recorded portion here, if you so choose:
If you have ever had to call a customer service representative, or if you have ever had an interaction with an individual who represents a much larger company while also maintaining utter control over a particular sliver of your life, it is easy to immediately feel sympathy for (and anger on behalf of) the beleaguered callers. They merely want to stop paying for a service they no longer require, after all. We have all been there, in some form or another.
[UPDATE: Comcast has apologized, calling the customer service representative’s actions “unacceptable” and saying they are investigating the situation.]
But John Herrman at the Awl takes a different perspective, pointing out that the customer service representative — who is responsible for maintaining business for the company, rather than allowing it to walk out the door — had no choice but to try and keep the business.
There is a larger issue here, one that suffuses much of our modern life: How much do we truly control in our lives? We pay companies for Internet service, for television, for phone plans, for phones, for apps, for services and for goods. Once, we paid to have a phone line and television service and gas and electricity and water; now, many (but not all) of us have ongoing contracts with companies to stream a limited library of movies and shows; we pay annual memberships so that the things we order can arrive a little bit faster. We don’t just pay for a newspaper to get dropped on our front door every day; we pay so we can access a news organization’s content online, and in exchange for that we see unusual ads targeted to our particular preferences. (This doesn’t even touch on the unpaid services, the ones that we entrust with our e-mails, our photos, our pokes, our files, our favorites, our likes and the rest of our digital lives, ready to be strip-mined for data points that can be sold to advertisers.)
Here, two individuals began utilizing a service that began when they determined they wanted it. In an ideal world, they would also be able to determine when they would no longer require the service. In our world, this recording touches a nerve, because we have all been there and because we have all been reminded that we are never really in control.