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American consumers have quietly accepted a culture of incompetency


Some people accuse baby boomers of glorifying the past. Some insist that anyone born in the 50s or 60s is simply unwilling to step into the future and fully embrace inevitable and life-enhancing change and culture shift in this new millennium.

There may be some truth in the rebuttal to “the good old days.” Pervasive blue tooth ease of operation makes remote control convenience seem archaic. Medical miracles occur because of advancements both in research and treatment options. Travel, household duties, workplace production have improved exponentially as a result of high tech.

But what has been the down side? What is the collateral damage in terms of human cost?

Let’s take education. There are legions of veteran teachers who chose to exit the profession for early retirement rather than convert to complicated computerized grading, curriculum development and lesson plan preparation. Even most of those who gave it a shot eventually threw in the towel after they saw the situation become increasingly complicated over time.

This seemed more than their commitment to lifetime learning, primarily because so much change seemed arbitrary and student performance did not appreciably improve as a result. It was a losing battle for old timers, no matter how effective they had been in molding student success. The choice was to go with the technology emphasis or hit the door – no middle ground. They stampeded out of the classroom.

The problem with that is, having no alternative route, many excellent teachers of high achieving students were lost. Their passion for the classroom and learning could not be taken into account because there was only one acceptable way of doing things.

Consequently, American classrooms have welcomed way more technologically savvy young teachers who are disconnected from the educational culture or the roots of compassionate classroom instruction. End result, the process of grading, disciplinary action, reporting to parents, meeting increasing state and district requirements, even taking attendance, became more uniform but once again, our society lost another battle for individualism.

The changes you see today are not just your imagination.

For example, not only are the products that we purchase, generally speaking, more difficult to assemble or operate, but the likelihood of these items working as advertised seems to be diminishing with every new gadget that rolls off the assembly line into an Amazon delivery box or shelf at Target. Guarantees have been replaced with expensive limited warranties. When products fail, folk face costly repairs or trashing purchases for new ones much too soon.

Most baby boomers can remember when appliances around the house were so reliable that they literally functioned from childhood to the time they returned home with children of their own. You hardly ever saw a repair man because you hardly ever needed one. A tap here or there, turn of a screw or minor replacement part often got things running as good as new. Now if one thing goes wrong, the product is useless.

There was once palpable pride in the quality of American made products. American workers boasted about being the best. Today, not only are precious few products made in America, but there is no accountability for workmanship from the smallest inconsequential item to the most technologically advanced purchases. Caveat emptor (buyer beware) has never been as relevant.

Even worse is the customer service which exists in name only. Manufacturer or retailer responsibility is about as rare as black-and-white TVs and vehicles without seatbelts. You already know this if you have had to call your cable or satellite company, cell phone provider, appliance maker, airline, utility company, retail store, clothier or virtually anywhere to vent dissatisfaction with a purchase. You have gone through what can only be described as a gauntlet of gross customer disservice.

The worst part is that human beings have virtually been taken out of the equation; replaced with programmed answering mechanisms that list options that normally take you to yet another robotic source to deal with your situation. If your problem is not listed in the so-called changing menu, there is seldom any recourse. And it only gets worse when a human with a deep accent named “Bob” or “Mary” finally comes on the line and the two of you can barely understand each other well enough to get through the conversation.

It’s not your imagination. Goods and services in this country are nowhere near the quality of past years, even if functionality is substantially increased. It’s not just “baby boomers” pining for their youth. To the contrary, most who are happy and healthy gladly pass the baton in this rat race to the more fleet of feet emerging generations. But the concession to step aside and age gracefully shouldn’t require forfeiture of expectations of quality goods and services.

The number of vehicle recalls is ridiculous. The number of medical malpractice incidents is high. The number of legal issues resulting from ill-prepared lawyers, and for that matter judges, is more prominent in the news. Billion dollar aerospace manufacturing has not only endangered lives but created astronomical waste due to faulty design or function.

America is experiencing an epidemic of incompetency.

The problem is everywhere. It is more likely that a simple trip through a fast food line will result in folk getting an uncomplicated order wrong rather than right. This lack of attention to detail and unconcern with job performance and service stretches from adolescents entering the workforce to those on the brink of retirement.

And we are paying more for less… for everything.

A trip to the service station to fill up two cars will hit you for well over $100. It’s getting to the point where the cost of gas has become competitive with actual car payments and other regular monthly bills that consumers face. Once again corporate America’s response is essentially “love it or leave it.” Folk largely have little choice when it comes to driving.

This essay is not intended to change the trajectory. It is what it is.

Government and corporate influencers ignore the consumer outrage. The purpose of this essay is to confirm, once again, that it is not your imagination. Product and service reliability as well as American consumer concern are dinosaurs, no longer existing in this profit driven capitalism. It will likely get worse before it gets better.

So why even talk about it? Just because a situation is wrong or frustrating doesn’t mean it should be ignored or become acceptable.

Keep complaining when that mail order gadget doesn’t work or your new SUV spends more time in the dealer service garage than yours. Send back that steak if you ordered “well done” and it came to your table rare. Return wrongly sized shoes or clothing. More closely examine performances of your doctors, lawyers, financial advisers, insurance providers and other providers of professional services.

Hold folk responsible.

Only to illustrate that it is much more than nostalgia when those of us over 50 or 60 look around at the workplace and the marketplace today and lament that things are nowhere as good as they once were no matter how much shinier, and glistening the technology. With so many things to deal with, the American consumer quietly accepts whatever hand he or she is dealt. But that doesn’t make it right.

They hope folk will grow too weary to complain and just accept the status quo. Don’t let it happen. If no one else does, you keep fighting back. Make them get your goods or services right. Something might change if we fight the power… one consumer at a time. And who knows what can happen? Every now and then, a modern-day “David” actually slays a corporate “Goliath.” Go for it.

Vernon A. Williams JuneteenthCIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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