February 15, 2008

I <3 Technology

For someone who works in “new media,” I certainly have crap luck with technology. My problems began when I realized that Apple computers do not have even a remote following in South Africa, not even in the trendiest Jo’burg suburbs. So when I talk about my “Mac,” more than once I’ve been asked if I’m referring to McDonalds.

The lack of Mac computers of course means there’s a lack of support services. So when I nearly blew a fuse in the office trying to charge my laptop through my converter, it took interrogating six different computer stores to realize no one could help me get a local charger, extended battery, or a converter that wouldn’t spark when I plugged it in. (Thankfully some bootleg options solved that problem.)

My second issue has been internet access outside of the office. Like most developing countries, there is no mass use of broadband or existence of cable modems here. Anything that requires laying cable doesn’t exist. So satellite and wireless are the norm, which would be fine if I had a PC. 3G cards are easily accessible and incredibly easy to use. But alas, again, the Mac I love has no slot for a 3G card.

So I devise Plan B: use my cell phone as a modem via Bluetooth or a USB chord. Should be easy enough. I load my SIM card with a data package, follow all the appropriate instructions, and rush home excited to finally be on Skype when people in the US are awake.

Five calls to customer service later I learn that Macs are apparently only compatible with Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones for use as a modem. I own a Motorola.

Great. I go to each of the wireless service providers again for other options, but they can make me no guarantees. “We don’t know Apple computers ma’am. Sorry.”

By this point I’m angry and bitter and taking it out on the folks at the one Apple-authorized dealer I did find, as they can barely help me with anything either. The manager feels so bad for me that he personally takes me around to all the wireless service providers in the mall yet again. Perhaps there was some solution…

Four stores and an hour later, we finally found one. A Mac-friendly USB modem that I could buy without signing away my first-born (most required a three year contract and infinite paperwork that I, as a foreigner, could not produce). I purchase this US$400 device out of exhaustion and desperation; I needed the madness to end.

I get home and again am supremely excited to be connected. But my bliss only lasts one week. The SIM card in my USB modem suddenly malfunctions and I again cannot connect. Error message: “Cannot negotiate connection with remote PPP server.”

Ignoring the fact that I have no idea what that means, the people at customer service had no idea either. After calling every day for a week, after spending 5 hours total on hold listening to terrible music, after talking to 9 different customer service reps, no one could tell me what happened to my SIM card. “We’ll try to fix it ASAP. We assure you.” I’m not so trusting of call center assurances.

Finally today, over a week after it stopped working and two weeks after my USB modem’s purchase, I spoke to someone sane at MTN, my service provider.

“You’ve simply run out of airtime miss.”

“I’m sorry, what?

I’ve been speaking to you people for a week now.”

“Yes, seems as though you were set up with 100MB of data and it was used up in five days. You just need to purchase a new SIM card.”

Oh. Great. That’s all. Say hi to your colleagues for me. Tell them I’m the girl with the Mac.

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