humor, life, Media, Movies, People, Pop Culture, reviews

The sham of asking for feedback on customer service and why companies should know no news is good news

From the desk of friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney of Des Moines, Iowa.

I called the cable company about a problem with my internet service.

A computer answered.

We are already off to a bad start.

The computer asked me to press numbers on my phone to direct me to the proper human who could help with the problem.

I used my smartphone, which really means I touched glass where a number appeared.

I found myself nostalgic for the old push-button phones from Northwestern Bell. Those phones couldn’t take a photo or play games, but they were well-built and heavy enough to be used as the murder weapon in a blunt-force trauma homicide.

Somehow the ability to push that button really hard made me feel better about these phone tree answering services.

The computer routed me to what it believed to be the appropriate place. I waited for a human to come on the line.

The computer asked a final question: “Would you consider taking a brief two-question survey after your call about your customer service experience? Press ‘1’ for ‘yes’ and ‘2’ for ‘no.’”

This is an odd time to ask this question. I hadn’t had a customer service experience yet and I was already being asked to rate it.

I declined the offer.

I always do.

Don’t put the responsibility of reviewing your employees’ performance off on me. I just want to get my Disney+ streaming the latest episode of “WandaVision” in HD.

I buy a lot of products from a large online retailer. They often send me emails asking me to review a product such as a book or toy.

This offends me.

I make my living as a writer. If you want me to sling sentences for your $1.7-trillion online retailer, pay me. I charge $1 per word.

I would also consider deep discounts.

I’m realistic. They aren’t going to pay me. I’ll be a good sport.

Here’s a review of every product I ever bought from them: “[Insert product name here] was probably fine or I returned it for a refund.”

Cut and paste as needed.

This obsession with rating and ranking knows no bounds. I watch a movie on Netflix, they want me to give it a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Roger Ebert should sue. Of course, he’s dead. This probably keeps his litigation to a minimum.

EBay wants me to rate every transaction. The feedback system supposedly kept scofflaw sellers from ripping people off.

But everybody gets ripped off by somebody at some point on eBay. I’ve always gotten my money back.

Even if you want to give negative feedback, eBay makes you go through extra hoops to do it.

So why bother?

My feedback is I didn’t ask for a refund.

A favorite restaurant of mine offers discounts to frequent customers. They sent me an email asking me to rate my experience every time I used the card.

I blocked their email address.

I still eat at the place. That’s my feedback. I’m a repeat customer.

I understand that consumers want to have a say in how they are treated by the businesses with which they deal – especially the massive, monolithic and borderline oligarchic corporations that dominate modern consumer life.

But I believe most of the ways they gather feedback amounts to a wooden suggestions box on the breakroom wall with a slot for comment cards that fall right into a trash bin.

I struggle to believe that if I rate my customer service experience at the internet service provider poorly that this will lead to any meaningful change.

I don’t believe they record calls for quality and training purposes. I believe they record calls for evidentiary purposes in case of a lawsuit.

What ticks me off about the whole thing is I’m being asked for my opinion when I know damn well they don’t care and they’re going to keep doing what they’re doing.

My recourse is either to change where I buy things or accept a certain level of cruddy service.

Press “1” if you agree.

And if you disagree, just stop reading.

Daniel P. Finney saw a werewolf at Trader Joe’s. His hair was in a bun and he smelled of beard oil.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. And I got a nasty tax bill for daring to have health insurance while I was unemployed. All donations are greatly appreciated and needed. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Movies, Music, Pop Culture

Thoughts on ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’

Ma Rainey’s nephew has just gotten into a car accident driving his aunt and her girlfriend to a recording session in a scene early “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

The scene is set in 1927 Chicago. Rainey, played by the incomparable Viola Davis, is about to be hauled away by the police.

Rainey is indignant. Don’t they know she’s the star?

They don’t. Her white manager bribes the cops. She sees the money go from one white hand to another.

Ma Rainey has a lot of power for a Black woman in 1927 America. Her voice sells records and white men will cater to her to a point.

But to get out of going to jail for speaking her mind about a traffic mishap, she needs her freedom bought by a white man.

If the viewer hasn’t caught on by now, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is not a musical bio pic. This is a film about the blues in their truest sense — the oppression of Black and brown people.

She punishes these white men for the oppression and slights she’s endured. She shows up late. She demands her stuttering nephew deliver the intro to her song. She orders Cokes be brought in to combat the heat. She drinks those Cokes slowly while the white record men swear and complain.

Ma Rainey’s voice makes them money. And for as long as it does, they will put up with her. She knows this, hates this and revels in it at the same time.

The trumpet player Levee Green (the late Chadwick Boseman in his final performance) rages against anyone and everyone who doesn’t recognize his ascendancy to the greatest trumpeter of all time.

Levee is cocky and mocks the old ways of his fellow bandmates. He ignores the advice of wise pianist Toledo (Glynn Turman) and mocks the faith of trombone player Cutler (Colman Domingo).

Rage bursts from Levee in self-destructive explosions. He becomes obsessed with a locked door. He rams his body into it until he finally cracks through, revealing a space no bigger than a prison cell with the daylight far away — a symbol of how deep a hole the young Black man begins life and how each door broken through runs into another brick wall.

The story ends in tragedy and blood as so many do for Black Americans, then and now.

I would not go so far as to say I liked this movie, but I was absolutely impressed by it. I love the way playwright August Wilson uses language and builds tension with lines the way an orchestra reaches crescendo.

The reason I say I don’t like the movie is because it’s a sad story that makes a sadder statement about the plight of fellow humans that remains true today.

It’s hard to embrace such discomfort. But it’s a good idea that we do and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is a worthy place to start.

Daniel P. Finney’s new off-off-off Broadway Play is called “Megatron: The Musical.”

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, Iowa, Media, mental health, News, Newspapers, People

How an episode of ‘Black Mirror’ explained the end of my career in journalism

My friend Mandy Stadtmiller suggested I watch an episode of the British TV series “Black Mirror.” She told me the show is an “anthology of dystopias.” Mandy is an author. That’s the kind of thing authors say.

She explained it was kind of like “The Twilight Zone,” only more depressing.

I avoid depressing things for entertainment. I live with depression. I feel no need to pour it in my brain through my eyes and ears.

I don’t listen to Coldplay or Morrisey. I saw “Schindler’s List” just once. I prefer fantasies where the good guys win and the lines of good and evil are clearly delineated.

Still, Mandy is very smart. I trust her recommendations. So, I watched the first episode of the third series, called “Nosedive.”

The story takes place in a not-too-distant future where people’s value is determined by their social rating. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Lacie, a young woman desperate to raise her 4.2 rating to 4.5 to get a discount on an apartment.

Lacie receives an invitation to the wedding of her childhood friend, who rates a 4.8 and has a guestlist of highly rated luminaries.

Lacie believes if she can just nail her maid-of-honor speech she will collect enough positive ratings to improve her social status.

Perhaps predictably, things break bad for Lacie as she travels to the wedding and her social rating plummets so far that she’s disinvited from the wedding.

Lacie shows up anyway and melts down in front of the crowd. The crowd decimates her social rating and she’s arrested.

In jail, cut off from the social rating system, Lacie and another prisoner playfully trade profanities and insults free from the worry of losing any status.

The episode is funny in parts. Cherry Jones plays a truckdriver with a downhome, who-gives-a-fuck mentality that brightens what is otherwise a terrifying look at how desperately we crave approval through social media.

The episode is good speculative fiction. It pushes the present slightly forward and only a bit askew.

I found the episode revelatory in how well it portrayed the tremendous burden social media places on people.

As I continue to detoxify from a career in journalism, I start to realize how much anxiety and depression the final years of my career produced.

Allow me to preface this: What I went through at my former shop is a story repeated in scores of newsrooms across the nation as the trade copes with staggering and likely catastrophic changes.

I hold no specific grudges against my former employer. How things ended for me there could have easily been repeated at any other newspaper in any other city. It only hurt more because this was my hometown paper.

The industry changed so drastically in the second decade of my career that I barely recognized my trade. I did not make the adjustment quickly enough to survive. I’m not sure survival was even possible. So it goes.

It just came to pass that the thing I wanted to do since I was a boy was not a thing that existed in the modern world. I was a village blacksmith wandering through town looking for an anvil while the cars zoomed by.

For a while, there was a TV screen in the middle of the newsroom that displayed individual reporter’s social media rankings.

It felt as if “Mean Girls” created a stock market ticker for my worth as a writer.

We lived and died by metrics — basically how many people clicked on your stories and how long they read them.

The bosses gave reporters quarterly metrics goals. The goals increased each quarter. I rarely made my goal.

Sports stories always scored well. Salacious crime drew eyeballs. Entertainment such as frou-frou food and craft beer lit up the board.

My column? Not so much.

I cracked up twice under this system. I took time away to recover from bouts of major depression during which I was suicidal.

Why couldn’t I connect with readers? Why wasn’t I good enough? Why was I failing?

I became bitter and cold. I hated my job. I hated the people I worked with. I hated other reporters who somehow figured out how to get the metrics pinball machine to light up when I could not.

And I hated myself for not being strong enough to separate my identity from my job.

Most of all, I hated myself for not having the guts to quit.

Eventually the bosses took my column away and made me a storyteller. That’s corporate journalism terminology for “reporter who writes long stories.”

Sometimes those stories did well. They often did not. The trouble with long stories is they take even longer to report and write.

When a big story flopped, I felt even more pressure to make the next story a big metrics winner.

I felt like mob hitmen pressed .45s into each of my temples while they fitted my feet for cement shoes.

My mental and physical health deteriorated.

And, finally, my job was cut.

I was devastated.

But it’s been four months now.

I see how my life mirrored the “Black Mirror” episode. I was Lacie — desperate for better ratings. I stopped being myself and tried to be what people wanted.

The experience nearly broke me.

But now things are better.

I’m free to write about whatever I want. I don’t fight the metrics machine anymore. My friend Memphis Paul and I make podcasts once a week. About 50 people download it. Great!

We record because it’s fun for two old friends to crack jokes and chat. I learned how to do basic podcast editing; a skill that might come in handy.

I keep writing my column in this blog. People like it. (Financial contributions welcome and appreciated!)

I’m broke. So what? I scrape by on unemployment. I attend graduate school.

I am going to be a teacher, English and journalism.

What I endured the last few years informs how I will approach my relationship with my students.

They will never be just a collection of numbers — test scores and gradebook points — to me. They will always be fellow humans engaged in the daily struggle to survive a world desperate to rate everyone on everything.

I will always treat them with love, dignity and respect.

That’s the only metric that matters.

Daniel P. Finney has a head that is too small for the rest of his body.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.