The problem with our technology-dependent futures is simple: computers break
My laptop broke yesterday. For some this would be a minor inconvenience that wouldn't really affect their ability to work. But for someone who works from home and doesn't have reliable access to another Internet-connected computer, something as seemingly meaningless as a busted computer is more than a slight nuisance. It's a disaster.
I'm not the only one who could be incapacitated by a malfunctioning computer. Almost 10 percent of workers telecommute at least one day a week, according to a report from the US Census Bureau, and that number continues to rise. Even as some employers revoke their workers' ability to work from home, the proliferation of everything from powerful home computers to advanced telepresence robots makes coming to the office less important than ever before.
The report also states that nearly half of home-based workers are self-employed. As any number of platforms make it easier to work small, temporary gigs as a freelancer instead of working for just one employer, that number might also increase. This gig-based economy poses its own problems, one of which is the reliance on equipment that can stop working seemingly at random.
In my case the problem might be a malfunctioning solid-state drive. My laptop is one of the few models that Apple recalled last week; the company's software utility confirmed that my solid-state drive is faulty. I planned to visit the Apple Store this weekend to get the thing fixed or replaced. Then it stopped working yesterday morning, leading to a day-long scramble to find a different device I could use to work until I could get the damned thing fixed that ended with me commandeering my fiancée's laptop for the foreseeable future.
I expected that the local Apple Store -- by which I mean the one of the only Apple Stores within a hundred miles in any direction -- would be able to get me in quickly. The company is famous for its customer service, to a point where some have wondered if it is wasting time and money with customers who don't really require much assistance. Surely they would be able to promptly deal with my problem.
The earliest I could get an appointment at the Genius Bar, that hallowed place where Apple's technical wunderkinds deal with seemingly any problem that might befall the company's customers, was Sunday. I decided to call the store and see if that would produce better results. It didn't.
After waiting on hold for 20 minutes, the kind specialist who took my call said that the earliest I would be able to drop the laptop off for repair would be October 28. Then they would have to order the correct parts and perform the repairs -- the earliest estimate for receiving the parts is October 30. The company, famous for allowing miniature horses and people wearing Darth Vader costumes into its stores, wouldn't be able to fix or replace my laptop for almost a week, at the earliest.
Even that is an improvement over other manufacturers. My fiancée's Toshiba laptop stopped working just a few hours after she turned it on for the first time. It took weeks of going back-and-forth with Toshiba, Best Buy, and the laughably incompetent Geek Squad to get that laptop fixed. Apple's week-long wait is frustrating but much better than the competition, which I suppose is a bit like saying that a root canal is painful but hurts less than having an arm amputated without anesthesia.
To put this in perspective: I need my laptop like a commuter needs a car. I can't "get to work" without it, and in my particular case, I don't have a spare laptop lying around. I suspect that many car owners face the same problem. And unlike some commuters, many of whom rely on public transportation or carpooling to get to work, there isn't a viable public utility that would allow me to get work done. I can use my fiancée's laptop, but that means that she'll have to ignore work for her online classes until after I'm done with my own work.
It would be easier to find a replacement device if I worked in an office or lived in a major city, but I don't. Like many other people who are telecommuting or taking small online jobs instead of seeking traditional work, I currently live in a place where the rent doesn't rise with every IPO and the nearest Apple Store is an hour away. I might be an oddity now, but more and more people are going to rely on their computers to get things done without stepping foot in an office, and the inability to get a problem fixed until a week after its occurrence is going to become a problem.
[Image courtesy binarydreams]