Thursday, February 26, 2009

Helplines for the helpless

It's great to be living in an advanced technological age of mobile phones and the internet. And by far the best thing about living in this advanced technological age of mobile phones and the internet have got to be the telephone helplines - lines that put you on hold for hours before sending you through to a frazzled worker in a distant land, who gives you vague and non-specific advice that may or may not relate to the problem you wanted help with in the first place.

Why hadn't we ever thought of helplines before this advanced age of mobile phones and the internet? Imagine if we had had a helpline when books were first invented. In fact, since nary a day goes by without some pundit punditising about the death of the book, now would seem an excellent time to start up a books helpline.

- Hello, Books Helpline.

- Oh, at last. I've been waiting for ages.

- Yes.

- And I still wasn't sure, in the end, whether I should have gone through to the 'general inquiries' section, or...

- We'll see what we can do sir.

- Anyway, my problem is this, right? I've bought this book...

- Okay.

- And I'm impressed! It certainly looks like up-to-date software. I'm sure you guys have put in a lot to the manufacture of it, this book...

- Uh huh.

- But there's one problem... this book...

- Yes?

- Well... how do I make it work?

- You need to make your book go, is that the problem?

- Yeah, you see, the plug, that's just it, the book doesn't even have a plug! I can't attach it to a power source because it doesn't have a plug! And I can't even find any power socket for...

- (Laughs) Oh, I think I see the problem sir. The book doesn't have a plug.

- Doesn't have a plug? What do you mean? There's got to be a power socket, at least...

- No, it doesn't have a power socket either. You see...

- Or maybe it's one of those batteries. How long does it last? Will I have to recharge it? Or just keep buying new ones?

- No sir, if you can just let me explain... a book doesn't need access to a power source, it doesn't need a battery. It'll work without any of those things.

- Really?

- Yes. You just open it up and read it.

- Oh. I see.

- You see?

- Um... (puzzled)... how do I do that?

- Hello, Books Helpline.

- At last! This bloody thing! I've been trying and trying to get this thing going right, and I can't get it working, my wife can't get it working, and my kids can't get it working either!

- What seems to be the problem, sir? Can you describe it in any more detail?

- Well it's a book, sure. It performs well enough. It's got plenty of words in it, if ever I want to read something.

- Yes.

- But the instructions that came with it, they're stuffed, I can't understand them...

- What do you want to know sir?

- 'The bookmark', it says, what is this bloody 'bookmark'? It says it comes with the 'book', but I sure as hell can't find it in the 'book'.

- Sir, I want you to try this for me. You might find the bookmark poking out of part of the device - it may be a narrow strip of paper . Check at the top, bottom, and sides of the device. Look carefully...

- I'll check. (Pause) It's not there!

- Hmm, well...

- No, I checked very carefully, and it's not there. Oh, HELL, has the stupid thing lost a component in the delivery? Because I can bloody well tell you, I've had enough trouble already, and...

- Sir, is your book a hardback or a paperback?

- Huh? What?

- I'm trying to determine what type of book yours is, a hardback or...

- A softback? I wouldn't bloody know, these foreign terms...

- No no, sir, you see, some books are called 'hardbacks', and they often come with a special strip of cloth attached to them which is used as a bookmark, and I'm just trying to ascertain...

- Well, how would I know? I've just got this thing, how could I tell...

- Well sir, there's a simple test you can apply. The cover of a hardback is thick and very difficult or to fold. The cover of a paperback is thin and relatively easy to fold. Have a check and see if the cover could be folded easily - don't fold it, you might damage the product, just test it and see how malleable it is.

- Let me see (Pause.) No. No, it doesn't fold.

- It definitely doesn't fold.

- No... (long pause).... No. It definitely doesn't fold.

- Ah. Then I believe you have a hardback there, sir.


- I'm getting to that. Sir, I want you to feel aroundd the cover for a strip of fabric - possibly made out of silk or a similar fabric. Feel carefully. Take your time...

- Wait... no ... no... doesn't seem to be there... no ... no... no... wait... wait! I've got something1 It seems to be wedged intto the book pretty tight...

- Is it definitely attached to the cover?

- Yes... yes. Definitely.

- Congratulations, sir. You have found your bookmark.

- What? This thing is...

- Yes, sir.

- Hooray!

- Will that be all sir?

- Oh, yes... no, wait. There is one other thing....

- Yes sir?

- Are you Indian?

- (Laughs) Have a nice day sir.


Andy B said...

This made me chortle.

TimT said...


Anonymous said...

I think a conversation would start with "For quality assurance, please have your ISBN number handy" and all these people wouldn't get much further because they wouldn't have figured out what ISBN means.

Nowadays, I have a feeling a Books Helpline might go like this:

BH: Hello, Books Helpline

A: I've got one of your products ... it's a book ... I'm trying to operate it. But I can't get it started.

BH: Have you tried opening the front cover.

A: Yes, I tried that. Actually, I've opened and closed it several times to see if that works but it still won't work!

BH: Well let's do some test runs while I'm on the line and we'll see if I can diagnose the problem. Otherwise I may have to send you to a Level 2 helpdesker. Please open the book cover while you're on the phone to me.

A: Got it.

BH: What do you see?

A: There's a white page with some large writing in the middle.

BH: Good, that's the title page. Seems to be operational. Could you please see if you can turn over that page. Please do so fairly gently but firmly.

A: I've done it.

BH: What next.

A: Writing, lots of it, smaller font.

BH: All seems to be correct. What seems to be the problem, sir?

A: I don't get this. It's not proper language. Where are the emoticons and I can't see LOL or l8r or PMSL any word I recognise at all. I was told this was an ENGLISH book.

BH: Problem diagnosed.

TimT said...

I wrote about five of these, and had an idea for two or three more. The trouble with all these helpline conversations though is they're so tedious, and they go on and on and on. If I'd whacked any more up on the blog, this post would have gone on and on (and on) in a similar manner...!

Shelley said...

I couldn't actually read this. It was too much like dealing with some of the idiots who phone me at work. Especially the ones who want me to fix their email problems. Can't even dial the right number? FAIL.

Anonymous said...

Oh how I fear the day.

I remember an occupational therapist telling me some time ago it might be easier to read with electronic books.

Can you truly imagine trying to read any of the greats, the likes of Dostoevsky or Maughm spring to mind, from a computer screen?

No thanks, no thanks at all.

I will have my dusty, second-hand dog-eared books over any of that crap any day.

Anonymous said...

Wait, I've got one:

Me: Operator, I've opened this book and it just doesn't seem to work.

Operator: Have you plugged it in?

Me: Yes, I plugged it in, turned and read a few pages and it still doesn't seem to be working.

Operator: Is it battery-powered?

Me: NO.

Operator: Is it by Helen Razer?

Me: Yes... why?

Operator: My computer is telling me all Razer publications are faulty and as a matter of occupational health and safety we must recall all Razer products.

TimT said...

You gave me snickers. And Snickers Satisfies.

Anonymous said...

*bows down*

Email: timhtrain - at -

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