Now listen here, you young whippersnapper!

I have a friend near my age who is fond of saying "We've outlived our time." That means the modern world seems ruder, faster, and more complicated than when we used to pick up the phone and tell the operator, "I'd like Forest 2729." We really did.

Three events in recent weeks reminded me again how all the electronic wonders we've become accustomed to often make life more, rather than less, difficult. A short while ago, I took a vacation using Delta (just as it was coming out of bankruptcy). A friend in Europe (a million-miler) offered me enough of his frequent-flyer miles to get a business-class ticket.

You probably know the rest. No seats are released until a certain date, and then you have to call - but if you miss the date (and you're not told when it is), no ticket. Worse, I had purchased a cheap backup ticket - and even if they'd given me a business class ticket over, there was no guarantee of one back - and the cheap round-trip would be canceled (with no refund). As the very nice agent said when we were trying to figure it out: "You really need a college course in frequent-flyer miles to use them."

Oh, and there's more. Giving up on the FF miles, I showed up at the counter only to be told that I had no ticket going over (the one for coming back was fine). It seems in trying to solve the whole mess, someone had failed to enter a necessary code, so the electronic ticket had vanished in a puff of electrons.

I happen to love e-tickets, and am happy to use technology, but this will continue to alienate air travelers, wouldn't you think? And haven't we spent lots of ink trying to convince you that the customer comes first?

The second electronic brouhaha is a version of spam. Several of the franchise sites - one of ours among them - were victims of a strange scheme in which a spammer sent in fake names and email addresses as sales leads. It's a service we offer advertisers on the Web sites, but passing on fake leads is not something we're going to do.

Our webmaster, Ben Foley, was able to trace one of the addresses to the U.S. Treasury Department, so the FBI got interested. I suspect someone is going to be sorry.

But spam and related e-mischief is one of those modern horrors - estimates are that 80 to 90 percent of emails are spam, and that a relatively few people are responsible for most of it. Some have been sued under state or federal laws, but most are outside the reach of our laws.

And a part of our cover story is missing because promised interviews weren't given - nor was there even a simple phone call to say that they wouldn't be or why.

In the time I've now outlived, one just wouldn't do that.

Despite these recent events, I'd like to believe we haven't outlived basic manners and consideration. You might call it "customer relations for everyday life," where everyone you meet is a potential customer. It's like that old fable (every culture and religion has a variation) where a ragged stranger knocks on your door asking for a meal or shelter - and turns out to be an angel, sage, or spirit (depends on the culture). Do you turn that person away, or invite them in?

It's only a test - you might call it a "pop quiz" - a reminder that every daily encounter is a test in public relations, personal relations, customer relations, human relations. Looks like the folks above didn't score very highly this time around. But there's always tomorrow.

Or maybe it really is time for me to find that porch rocker and hide the telephone.

Published: September 21st, 2007

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