Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

Bothering Innocent Support People OR What I Did for Lunch Today

I’d been dreading making this support call. It was one of these things where a company gave me credit card protection for six free months and then they were going to start charging for the service ($1.35 / $100 in credit / month to be exact—exorbitant to say the least!). I didn’t want to make the call to tell them to stop the service because you always encounter like the last bastion of “but wait, but wait, but wait” and you just have to keep repeating yourself: “No. Do not want.” It’s annoying. Anyway, they always ask you for the reason why you don’t want to continue the service and I thought, You know, I’m going to give them a reason that they just can’t be ready for. If you use a reason that they’re ready for, they’ll keep you on the phone that much longer trying to find a deal in their script or database that will keep you around.

“It’s too expensive.”

“But sir, did you know we will never charge you more than bla bla bla…”

I had some actuary tables from a project I worked on a while back and I did some back-of-the-napkin calculations and I figured that the probability of me losing my job or getting injured or the probability of my death is currently at about 3.645%1 I called and I waited and the operator came on and after the initial exchange the inevitable question occurred “Would you like to tell us why you are canceling the service?”

Yeah, I’ll tell you why.

I responded, “You charge $1.35 / $100 in credit per month, correct?”

::Looks some stuff up:: “Yes that is correct, but only if you have a balance on your credit card.”

“Well, let’s say I often do. Let’s say it’s $100 a month in fact. That means you would charge me $16.00 annually. And if I, for some reason, ran my card up to the max and tried to pay it down, you might charge me $300 and up annually.”

::Long silence::

“The thing is, I’ve calculated the probability of my injury, loss of employment and death and that only comes out to be a 3.645% chance per year.”

“Did you really–is that–?”

“It can be done.”

“What we do is cover your payments and bill in case of–“

“Oh, I understand what you do; that’s why I calculated the probability. You see, you’re asking me to place a bet for a $1.35 per $100 per month per twelve months that I won’t die or get injured, etc. And the percentage of losing my money on this bet are roughly 96%. Does that sound like a good bet to you?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“It’s a little bit more tricky but essentially at your lowest rate, you would be charging me an additional 16% interest per year on my credit card.”

“So I will get your cancellation confirmation…”

I have to admit that doing this in the interest of saving time was obviously a red herring. I just relish the opportunity to harass corporations. However, I did figure out some interesting stuff about interest and credit protection and mortality statistics and corporations. And here’s the real value of working out the calculations: a credit card protection program like this is a scam, plain and simple. A credit protection program will only help you if you don’t pay off your balance every month, but then, if you pay off your balance every month, why would you need protection? It is better in the long run to put the money you would otherwise put toward protection, toward the bottom line of the credit card, especially because in the long run we are all dead.

The other thing that occurred to me was that this girl (fairly obviously a girl, fairly obviously Indian) that I was harassing had done nothing to deserve the harassment—I also wasn’t that harassing; technically I was just being factual. But even so, we have to stop thinking of corporations as monoliths and the “poor” people working for them as innocent drones. We all have a choice in this. Like so many things in post-postmodern life, it’s like the Matrix. Those who are in the system are part of the system and you can’t pretend that they are not the enemy.

But I don’t like saying things like that either—that she’s the enemy. It’s just that all the metaphors for economics and business that we use that stem from concepts of war aren’t appropriate anymore. They’re just the leftover detritus of the testosterone-filled suits of the 1980s who couldn’t stop reading “The Art of War.” You’re competitor shouldn’t be your enemy, you shouldn’t talk about your customers’ loyalty. People should give loyalty to hearth and home, not financial products and cars and soap. The customer support woman was not my enemy, but she was in my way. I wanted to cancel the account and move on with my day. They want to use the opportunity to up-sell me—at my inconvenience. Business shouldn’t be about war; it should be about quality of life. Corporations that deliberately take action to cut their bottom line while keeping you on hold or, even worse, to keep you on the phone so they can trick you out of your money are not the kinds of corporations that US consumers should be supporting. It’s our support of these corporations that is going make the phrase “Where’s my bailout?” the most popular phrase of 2009.

Some mortality statistics: * http://www99.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=car+accidents * http://www53.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=heart+disease+risk+33yo+male

  1. If you’re curious about these numbers, don’t be–they’re really mostly for show. However, I did find out that given my health and former smoking habits, I have a 1.7% chance of developing heart disease in the next ten years. That number gets lower every year I don’t smoke (~.3 at the moment). However, every year, your chance of dying in a fatal car accident is 1.90%. Since I’ve been riding my bike everywhere lately (which is also good for your heart!) I felt pretty good about that. 

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