In the Suburbs: That helpless feeling when computer problems pop up
At least two months ago, my laptop computer developed issues. Computers, I've learned over the years, will have issues and I have to step up to figure out the way to address those issues. Most of the time, the issues are fixable, but sometimes they are beyond fixable.
That happened when nuisance ads started popping up, sometimes with annoying music, and I kept getting angrier. We have an arrangement with the Geek Squad at Best Buy, where we bought the computer. When I stopped there to ask about my problem, one of the techs told me that this sounded like a simple fix and whenever I had the chance I should bring the computer in. I didn't do that right away and paid dearly.
Three weeks ago, virus warnings also started to pop up on the computer, literally with warning sirens. Whenever I tried to close out any project, the virus screen wouldn't let me out. Epithets abounded! But I decided to ignore those sirens and simply logged off the computer. When I turned it back on, the virus signals were gone and I was able to resume my work.
But one afternoon, I spent well over an hour making changes to a press release only to have none of those changes save and my colleague extremely upset with what I had sent him for review. He angrily e-mailed me to say that I had returned the same edited release to him.
Finally, last Friday, while I was working an audio warning came on telling me that my laptop was at high risk and I may have network issues. The audio message said to call an 800 number and I gave in and called. I was immediately sorry.
Suddenly, Neil (not his real name, I'm sure) was on the line asking me all sorts of questions about what I was experiencing and asking me to give him access to the laptop so he could see what was happening. When I asked if this trouble shooting would cost money, he said no, but urged me to just let him look so we'd know what we were dealing with. I acquiesced and the moment Neil accessed the network, the tone of the call changed completely.
Suddenly, Neil was almost whining. “Oh my goodness,” he said. “This is terrible.” I could see him moving my cursor around the screen as he pointed out thousands of infections to the network. Suddenly there were red circles around certain areas on my screen. When I asked Neil what I should be doing, he immediately said that I shouldn't be using the computer at all and that I had a couple of options. Both cost money, of course, and he offered to put me in touch with technicians who were standing by to help. He just kept whining about how terrible this was and he couldn't understand what I was doing that could have caused this. Of course, I started feeling guilty about how I'd ruined the computer.
But something about Neil's scenario sounded all too familiar to me, despite my illiteracy around computers. I'd had a similar situation with my last laptop about four years ago. I was in desperation mode when viruses started popping up and the computer kept running slowly. An 800 number popped up, I called and the person, who sounded a lot like Neil, kept moaning about all the damage I had done and how much it would cost to fix it. He sounded nice enough, but nearly $300 later I thought that there might have been a cheaper and equally effective fix. Clearly my naivety about computers and viruses cost me. So I decided that wasn't going to happen again. Besides, we have a service agreement with Geek Squad where we bought the computer. By the time I told Neil thanks but no thanks, he was begging to do the work for $99. I quietly hung up, loaded my laptop in the car and took it to the friendly Geek Squad. They were friendly, not punitive and did not chastise me for the things I'd done to cause the network problems. “These days,” as my rep told me, “it's pretty common to encounter viruses just by turning on the computer.”
My cleaned-up, like-new laptop will be out of the hospital soon and should be good as new at no extra charge. I feel like I'm making progress at last in this war against costly online repair folks who love to prey on techno-illiterates like me.
Steven Gaynes’ “In the Suburbs” column appears each Friday. Gaynes, who now lives in Bridgeport, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.