Editorial: Revisiting Walden? No Thanks. Or Don’t Touch My Stuff, Man

I just got back from my first weekend of "roughing it" out in the woods, in a tent. That’s right, I’m a city boy and proud of it. The closest I’ve come to sleeping in a bag in the wilderness was in high school. That’s when we stayed up all night in a buddy’s yard with a case of warm Pabst, in cans, and then "hopped" the neighbors’ pools until sunrise or the police took our last two cans.

The way I figure it, humanity has made great strides over the last two centuries in perfecting stuff that makes life better. And I like stuff; not fancy stuff, just the basics, like electricity, indoor plumbing, hot showers, clean clothes, a comfy bed and a fridge full of cold Pabst, in bottles … Like I said, we’ve come a long way. The trouble with stuff, though, is you always need more stuff, because it either breaks or no longer meets your needs. And someone needs to deliver the stuff that makes my life easier.

In our e-zealousness to day-trade for a quick buck and capitalize and command the age of information, we’re losing sight of a couple of important details. First, someone somewhere still has to actually work in this info-dictatorship. In other words, someone has to make things; things that function properly. Someone has to deliver these well-made products and, finally, someone has to service them when they – on that rare occasion – fail to work. It seems we’re quick at exchanging words, not doing anything about them. The chasm between information and action is widening and we’re all falling into it.

About a month ago, I ordered the movie Johnny Tremain for my nephew online. It was listed as in stock and to be shipped overnight. After four days had passed, and realizing I had since been in two stores where I could have ordered it or even bought it for the same amount of money, I contacted amazon.com. Upon checking the order, I discovered it would ship five days later. And when I was told there was indeed a delay, and it would ship "soon," they were kind enough to refund the extra costs I had paid for the overnight delivery.

And now I’m roughing it in my own home full of stuff; it seems all of my appliances are going south all at the same time. I have a Maytag dishwasher I bought from American Appliance two-years ago that just doesn’t want to shut off the hot water. It seems the optimal temperature was somewhere between 120 degrees and hot enough to start melting silverware.

After eight weeks of waiting for American Appliance to fix the unit, with no call backs and no indication of where the parts were from their service department, I contacted Maytag directly, who was able to send out a serviceman the next day and fix the machine two days later. So, where one company is merely an order (and money) taker, the other understands that you actually have to deliver on the promise of quality and service.

Of course, that same week my refrigerator, which sounds like a Cessna idling in my kitchen, also needed replacement. I went to Lowe’s home improvement store to, as the commercial says, get a new one that day. Well, "according to the computer," the model I wanted wasn’t in stock and it would actually cost sixty dollars more than what was advertised. Also, Almond, which was highlighted in the ad as available at no extra charge, would cost me another seventy bucks.

After debating these costs with the sales clerk and, eventually, his manager, I noticed that both were continually entering the wrong model numbers for the refrigerator into the terminal. But, they insisted that the computer was right and the computer would only "let them put in those [particular] numbers" and there was no other way to confirm pricing and availability. I was promised an answer the next day. Needless to say, that was over 10 weeks ago. Here’s an example of a company that seems to have the infrastructure in place, but no one who knows how to make it work.

So, if no one wants to, or can, fulfill the cacophony of clicks we’re generating during our info-mania, I might as well move into the woods and get used to roughing it. For you see, at some point, information without action just becomes useless noise, especially if I can’t enjoy it with a cold Pabst in a clean glass.