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geek squadNone of us really knows how our cars work, which means that every trip to the auto mechanic is an act of faith. Even when we’re suspicious of the repairs or dubious diagnosis provided by the corner mechanic we often roll over anyway, throw open our wallets, and genuflect in the presence of their mystical wizardry.

So no surprise then that CBC Marketplace has taken the boilerplate “bust a mechanic” TV camera entrapment scheme and used it to go after the 21st century’s answer to the auto mechanic — Geeks. In this video they busted Geeks On Call Nerds on Site (thanks to the Geeks On Call pseudo-lawyers for clarifying this), Geek Squad, and the nerds in VW Beetles from a number of other smaller organizations making all kinds of wacky diagnoses of the planted problem (albeit a persnickety one) of a damaged RAM DIMM.

I for one am disappointed they didn’t show more. From my experience with (fellow) geeks, I’m surprised there weren’t even more hare-brained recommendations than the $2,000.00 “clean room” in London, Ontario.Like grease monkeys, the geeks are becoming used to dealing with customers who revere their “talents” (read: dubious obscure knowledge) and over-simplifying problems to aid in comprehension. Also like auto mechanics, the temptation to exploit this gap in understanding is tough to resist.The difference is that in the automotive world, most of us have fled to the eager arms of dealer-affiliated repair shops. The reason is the feedback loop: if we feel ripped off, if we are concerned about the qualifications of the mechanic, or if we doubt the merit of their diagnoses these can all be addressed with the regional office of the manufacturer or beyond, and the mechanics know that.

But in the Personal Computer world, the reps that are being busted are exactly the people we’re used to trusting: technicians affiliated with major retail, software, or hardware brands. And while the feedback loop appears as though it might be there, these large companies have done a much better job than the auto manufacturers of insulating themselves from the petty concerns of their customers.

What the CBC has really done is expose the entirety of the business model associated with the mobile computer repair business: the upsell. They exist largely as a customer retention program for retailers, so that the first sale becomes a platform that results in a total lifecycle of sales as your computing equipment “matures” into planned obsolescence. Of course they’re just TV reporters so they didn’t really clue into that, so there’s little about this story that will surprise any of us within the industry.

Still, it’s fun to watch self-important geeks who 30 years ago would be wiping the grease from their hands as they waxed poetic about the ailments of our family cars, come up with a plethora of totally overblown and completely irrational conclusions. That said, a blown memory DIMM is difficult to diagnose, especially if the computer boots (which is not clear in this report).

Fortunately, there are a lot of geeks out there who can fix this kind of stuff, and you probably know one. If you do, then certainly the personal accountability feedback loop will probably do more good than any corporate accountability feedback loop. Just don’t call me — my Volkswagen is a Jetta. 🙂

-Ian.

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