Electronic Misroutability

For most of the morning Outlook has been glowering at me and reminding me that it can't connect to the server. Despite me patiently explaining that everything else that connects to the 'Net is working fine, it continued to sulk. Until suddenly an email arrived explaining that there was a major outage of the mail server network. Which, of course, arrived after they fixed it.

And to make matters worse, the message dropped into my Inbox several minutes after one that said the issue had been resolved. That's the problem with being universally electronically equipped and online communication enabled. It's like sending a snail-mail letter to people to tell them that the post office is on strike. Or a hardware manufacturer posting an automatically installed firmware refresh to fix a problem with the previous one that completely bricked everyone's router.

But maybe there's a neat reduction in consumer dissatisfaction if the bad news arrives only after the issue is resolved, or - like my experience this week - after the good news email to say it's fixed. A bit like that hackneyed phrase "Do you want the good news or the bad news first...?" Not that it works too well with jokes. Though if the doctor tells you that the guy in the next bed wants to buy your shoe, at least you can prepare yourself for the next statement that they need to amputate your leg.

Of course, assuming electronic contactability and constant online presence can be risky. I'm in the process of switching my cable Internet connection to a new package, which doesn't contain the phone line that came free with the old package but is a chargeable extra on the new package. So I emailed them to cancel the phone line. They decided to phone me to confirm it, using the phone number of the line I'm cancelling. Which seems sensible except that the reason I'm cancelling it is that I never used it (I have two other phone lines with much cheaper call rates) and consequently there is no phone plugged in. That's probably why the guy who phoned me didn't get an answer.

So they sent me an email instead, but sent it to my unused mailbox on their own system instead of the address I use for all my email (which is registered with them). Mind you, they're not the only people who do this; my other ISP does the same, but at least their email system allowed me to set up a redirection rule to my usual email account. The cable people don't seem to allow that. Luckily I found out about the message after phoning them back, and got a copy sent to the real me.

Maybe the answer is for email to be extended to take account of these kinds of connectivity difficulties. Email servers could automatically copy each important message to an SMS text, and then print it out and send it by snail-mail as well. And maybe also phone you up and read it out. When my wife was away last week our home phone rang and, when I answered it, a nice automated lady read out the contents of my wife's text message. Including automatically converting the "XXX" at the end to "Kiss, kiss, kiss". Isn't technology amazing?

Even more so because my wife depends on the predictive input capabilities of her phone without actually reading what it predicts. One day when I was out I got a text asking me to stop on the way home and get a beard. Luckily I was able to guess she meant to call in at our local bakers shop. And she hasn't yet discovered where the comma and full stop keys are, so reading the text is a bit like doing one of those word search puzzles.

I wonder if the automated lady had to spend ten minutes deciphering the message before she actually phoned me...