I was brought up in the latter part of the Cold War. As a child I remember being terrified of the marauding red menace and of their ability and willingness to invade England via Scotland at a second’s notice. Mutually assured destruction was the backdrop.
No wonder I wet the bed.
It was a given that Russia and Eastern Europe were cold, gray lifeless societies with cold, gray lifeless communist automatons miserably wandering along streets overshadowed by identical monolithic concrete structures. In other words, it was a bit grim.
Then we had the free-thinking, democratic West as personified by America where the sun always shone and all you needed to do was have an idea and you’d be rich in no time if you just followed your dreams. In other words, it was the golden ticket.
It was only after visiting Eastern Europe and the USA and having my eyes opened to the thought of both America and Russia willing to duke it out nuclear fashion over Europe that all might not have been what it seemed. And who couldn’t resonate with Sting hoping that the Russians loved their children too?
The odd thing about the parts of Eastern Europe I saw and reports I’ve had on other parts of the communist bloc that friends had visited was that it was mostly very impressive – both scenically and architecturally. Yes, some buildings could do with a bit of a wash, but it was far from the dire dystopian visions that kept plastic sheets on my mattress as a child.
On the other hand, after visiting America, it didn’t take you long to realize how similar much of the place is. Everywhere you go the shops, their facades, and the plots built to contain them are identical. The only difference being that the concrete is uniformly sandy colored as opposed to gray. Diversity was conspicuous in its absence.
If Freud had spoken with Marx and they’d both smoked a bit of opium they might’ve trotted out some bizarre theory of national displacement – America was really what it was accusing Russia of being.
Russia was also always berated for its state monopolies and lack of freedom of choice for customers – such is life under communism. Only under capitalism offering competition and innovation through entrepreneurial endeavors could a society be truly democratic and freely thrive.
But America also managed to give us Comcast – a truly clueless corporate behemoth that probably wishes it could currently borrow from Stalin’s penchant for ‘airbrushing’ history.
I’m not fan of America’s #1 cable (non) provider on a personal level as they’ve managed to give me three different stories about their peculiar installation and aren’t exactly brilliant at ensuring service. At least once every two weeks the whole kaboodle will go seriously belly-up for around 18 hours. Other times it will flit in and out of service pretending it’s a pale imitation of a badly acted death scene.
But one swallow doesn’t make a summer.
Even I don’t particularly care for my own whining on the subject, but there are plenty of others whining about Comcast as well.
Comcast has managed to stir a bit of a hornet’s nest by meddling with its customers’ ability to download and share files using BitTorrent and P2P networks. Somebody is even suing them over the practice. Now the question here isn’t the legality of torrents and file sharing, but the fact that Comcast is preventing people from doing it. If you regularly speed whilst driving you’d expect to be caught and punished by law enforcement as opposed to having your ability to speed capped by motor manufacturers or gas companies. You’d be a bit ticked off, would you not, if you bought a Ferrari that had been advertised as being able to do 180 mph and finding out when you opened it up on a quiet stretch of road that it would only go 65 mph. Especially if they’d marketed it with having that extra bit of zing.
Now as much as I hate this kind of corporate scamming, I love America for the fact that no matter how desperate things appear to be on the surface, there’s always a counter strike. While Comcast tries to shape the Internet in its own little way, a game of cat and mouse begins.
It didn’t take me long to find a blog entitled Comcast Must Die archiving the many sad and desperate customers suffering at their hands. Even USA Today has written a story about it. Yes, its title may be a little strong, but it serves the purpose of providing a strong, cogent customer voice that even Internet providers have little chance of keeping schtum.
This falls into line with what Justin was talking about the other day regarding people that he’s spoken to about blogging worrying about being bashed by competitors. The online space is a wonderfully democratic place that allows voices to be heard. Frankly, if you’ve been found wanting as a business then there’s a distinct chance you’re going to be called out on it. And if you’re being called out by your customers in a similar way that is happening with Comcast then you’d better be prepared to shape up or ship out. In this case, the Comcast Must Die blog is akin to taking the valve off a pressure cooker.
There are a couple of directions Comcast could go on this from an SEM perspective. They could send their PR department into overdrive and send out fluffy messages about how they value feedback and how they’re listening – y’know how it works, the papering over the cracks routine. Or, they could actually tackle the whole issue head on by diving into the lion’s den and using every avenue open to them including blogs, forums and anything else to garner feedback and allow the venting of their customers’ spleens – take the punches on the chin and reinvent themselves.
You see, I’m in the same boat of many other Comcast customers in that I can’t switch (well I don’t think I can) due to various circumstances – one of the main ones being that there isn’t any alternative. I find the lack of competition in certain areas truly astonishing for a country that prides itself as a beacon of capitalism. And whether there will ever be any true competition in certain places remains a matter for debate.
However, I will always trust America to have debate at its grassroots. Customers will always rise up and sound a clarion call to those suffering from similar corporate oppression/greed/unpleasantness. And they will always do the same politically. Yes, these various corporations that are trying to shape the way we consume our media and blatantly rip us off will be called to account by the very hand that feeds them. After all, they owe you $200 billion for all that fiber-optic cable they promised over ten years ago as part of the building of the world’s greatest broadband infrastructure.
And that is the new American dream – waking up to those who have made it something of a nightmare.