I'm a recent convert to the Twitter experience. I spent the first few years wondering what on earth it was, and then another couple of years wanting nothing to do with it, convinced that it was just a way for deluded schleb hunters to delude themselves into thinking that they had a direct line to their favourite Z-lister (who of course would be delighted to immediately befriend them and validate their existence).
I'm not a million miles from that view now, but I am mellowing slightly. It does seem to work quite remarkably well as a means for eliciting the immediate attention of organisations I can’t seem to get any attention from in any other media. To wit: I had the (dis)pleasure of having to speak to my electricity and gas provider a few days ago, and as I waited on hold listening to the dulcet tones of Huey Lewis and the News I passed the time by tweeting about how long it was taking, and asked somewhat flippantly whether anyone fancied taking bets on how long it would be before they bothered to answer the phone. Within minutes up popped a little notice to tell me that I was now being followed by that very same electricity and gas provider, who then VIA BLOODY TWITTER offered to call me immediately to sort out whatever the issue was. At this point I’d been on hold for….26 minutes. Well done if you guessed; give yourself a pat on the back and go slap a traffic warden.
Damage limitation, see. I moan, and the organisation comes on to remedy the problem before I can moan some more. And it works, that's the frustrating thing. As soon as 'Gerry' from [generic energy company] offered assistance my sails sank in calmer waters. How could I continue the rant? 'Gerry' would feel sad. Couldn't have that.
I could carry on the rant now and say that offering to placate one customer doesn't make up for the fact that average 20+ minute hold times cannot be acceptable in anyone's book, but that's not the point. The point is that actually the phone is becoming redundant. Another example to further illustrate this: I couldn't quite figure out how to do something with my mobile (phone someone, probably), so I thought I'd call the phone company concerned, and spent 15 minutes or so listening to some dirge or other and getting increasingly frustrated. Then I spotted a little button on their website that said 'chat with an adviser'. OK, thought I, I'll give that a go, all the time holding on the telephone just in case. Two minutes later I was engaged in a virtual discussion with someone who was (a) helpful and, more importantly, (b) available, and two minutes after that the problem was solved. As I closed the chat session I realised I was still on hold on the telephone.
There has to be, of course, a certain element of social (media) engineering going on here. It's cheaper for organisations to deal with their customers via twitter, or some chat system, where the bod at the other end can be involved in any number of discussions at once rather than be held up on one call with one difficult customer. But I find myself not really giving two hoots about why they're doing it, so long as it works, and by all the Gods it does seem to work.
It's all still new and marvellous to me, you know. I'm typing this on an iPad, which is doing the non-manly thing and multi-tasking by also pumping some music to me via some wi-fi headphones (‘look, no wires!’), and once I've finished typing I'll upload this to my blog, whilst all the time sat on a train accessing the interwebs via 3G. For someone born in the 70s when the next big thing in mobile communications was a telephone with an extra long lead so you could sit in the hallway and talk to your friends without your parents overhearing you, this current state of affairs is nothing short of witchcraft. I am in awe of it, something which La Child, of course, cannot understand. She was born into a world where this (iPhones, the Wii, wi-fi, constant access to everything, the ability to find anything out at any time on practically any medium) is all normal. Even my blackberry is old technology to her; whenever she picks it up she ignores the keyboard and tries to use the screen, which of course doesn't work and which leads to her shaking her head in disgust and go searching for her mother's iPhone instead. If I'm having any sort of technofear it's the 8 year old who sorts it out. "Look," I'll say to her, "marvel at this, I'm listening to Italian radio live on the iPad!" and she will smile sweetly, say "yes, daddy," and walk away chuckling at how much of a Luddite I am.