In an America that hinges on the use of technology, we are in a position that allows us to access limitless information and perform many functions of our lives with ease. I can transfer funds from my bank account, I can mix an entire album of guitar recordings, or I can watch a man open and consume a German military ration from 1945. What a time to be alive! This bloom has really just begun in the last 5 years and the momentum continues to break through ceilings. Though, as I found out, the moment from having this under our thumbs to being bent over a barrel can be much quicker than one might expect. It’s the old saying of “when it works, it’s great; when it’s bad, it’s awful.” When it comes to new technologies and their policies, this statement couldn’t be more relevant. From September 10th to October 19th of this year I was without a phone and the means to fix it. What I describe below is the arduous journey through malfunction, tech support, and automated voice systems that lead to the eventual replacement of my iPhone 7.
It began with spotty cell service. I had just moved to Coos Bay, Oregon, a small coastal town off Highway 101. I figured, “I’m 20 minutes from civilization so maybe the Sprint towers don’t work as well out here.” My phone continued to work, albeit not very well for the next few days. What happened next, I found is called a bootloop. The iPhone battery life plummets while the phone turns itself off and on without booting up completely. The phone was heating up like an old RC car battery that would burn your carpet if plugged in too long. Being the resourceful young man I am, I took to the internet to diagnose the problem. I scanned forum after forum with little luck. I tried soft resets, hard resets, threatening the phone, yet nothing seemed to work. It was then that I found a thread that suggested I update to the newest iOS. Ahah! That must be the issue. In order to do that however, I needed to download iTunes, which is basically poison to a PC. I moved past my memories of frozen computer screens and slow start ups and downloaded the program. It took about 3 hours thanks to my Dish internet service provider. I ran the update and the phone seemed to magically come back to me. All seemed well until I noticed a mysterious icon where the bars for my cell service should have been.
My phone was back on, but I couldn’t make any calls or send texts. Fearing that this was only the beginning I uploaded all of my recordings onto Google Drive. One by one I was able to save them at a staggering 20 kilobytes per second. Thanks Dish. At this point I decided to seek outside help. The closest Sprint store was at the Pony Village Mall in North Bend, a town about 15 minutes from my Dad’s. I set out in the Subaru to what appeared to be a vacant mall. Inside there was little going on besides the elderly shuffling back and forth between Jo-Ann Fabrics and a Christian book store. I wander, looking for the Sprint logo’s flash of yellow. I find that it is not a store, but a kiosk in the food court. Not a great sign. I’m promptly greeted and I relay all that has happened thus far. To the credit of the Sprint employee, they stood there with me for 30 minutes attempting to reset my phone. They proved no match. “The problem must be with the phone itself, I’d contact Apple if I were you.” Thanks. With a sigh, I exit Pony Village and smoke 3 cigarettes on the drive back to my Dad’s house. I’ve tried my way, I’ve tried Sprint’s way, all that’s left now is Apple.
After 5 minutes of automated voice systems and shouting “AGENT” I was able to get a hold of Darius, my first human contact with Apple. I explained my issue and we decide the best course of action is to restore my phone to factory settings. Darius guides me through the process and a small sense of hope flows through me. Bonjour! Guten Tag! Hello! This iPhone cannot be activated due to a cellular error. “Well Darius I think we just made matters worse.” I’m advised to send my phone in for repair. I have some options. I can either wait and send it through the mail or take it to an Apple store, the nearest store being 2 hours away in Eugene. I have friends in Bend that I was planning on visiting so I have Darius look up a store there. What luck! There is. I thank Darius for making an attempt and I pack my things for Bend. The 4 hour drive was uneventful besides my stereo crapping out halfway and getting stuck behind a paint crew for a good portion of the trip. I arrive in Bend and begin the next set of tasks.
The Apple store has a posh sterile feel to it. Illuminated panels advertise new products and how happy their owners are. I felt like a sweaty ashtray. A sales associate greets me and asks how they can help. I recount my journey and without missing a beat, the associate looks at the back of my phone and says, “oh yeah this is the iPhone 7 that has a manufacturing error in it.” So I was sold a phone that was destined to fail? Yes. The store is appointment only so I had to wait in the queue. I’m skipped and my frustration level reaches about 7/10. Eventually I am assisted by the associate that greeted me and she asks for my Apple ID and password. “I don’t know my password.” “Oh, I should have told you we needed it before you waited. I apologize.” I stare blankly back at her, though she assures me not all hope is lost. I can go to a Sprint store, get proof of purchase for my device, and call Apple to gain access. I leave the store and return to my car. At this point I feel a lot like John Malkovich when he calls his bank in Burn After Reading. I shout “FUCK FUCK FUCK” and slam my steering wheel a few times. I’ve come this far, all I can do is follow through with the instructions. I’m able to find a Sprint store and get the information I need. In my car I call Apple and I’m connected to Ricardo. I explain the steps it’s taken to reach this point and I provide Ricardo with my proof of purchase. He asks for some numbers that are on my SIM card. “If you have a paperclip or a thumb tack handy go ahead and eject the SIM card.” “Ricardo I’m sitting in my car, I don’t have a fucking paperclip in here.” Ricardo gives me his extension number so I can call him back once I get the SIM card out. With my anger peaking, I drive to my friend’s house to find a paperclip.
A day after I arrived home I received an email from Apple. “Your request has been processed and will receive instructions on resetting your Apple ID on October 11th.” October 11th?! That’s 2 weeks away! I don’t have a choice, so I wait. The weeks go by quick. I buy a watch and I read more books. The internet here is unreliable so I go back to the analog world. The afternoon of the 11th my Bend friend receives a reset code that he messages me via Facebook. With a few annoying authentications later I am able to reset the ID. I felt something close to elation as I was finally making some headway within this ridiculous system. I call the golden boy and leave a message. I’m awoken at 6 am the following morning. I was so relieved that he called back that I ignored his apologies for the hour and began the repair process half asleep. It helped that his personality could summed up as “swell.” Sean was kind and polite as he brought up topical conversation as he processed my request. “The wife and I just saw Eddie Izzard perform last night. It was a great show, got to go backstage and visit with him.” “Must be nice” was all I could muster. The guy was just too nice to be rude to, it was almost like he was an AI himself. He was THAT nice, it was off-putting in a way. Sean finishes processing my request and informs me that a box will arrive at my door in the next 2 business days. It was a Saturday so it wasn’t until Tuesday that the box would come. The box arrived and I rushed off to Walgreens (local FedEX drop location) and sent my phone off with the hopes they wouldn’t charge me for my grief and their faulty product.
It took a few days but my phone came in the mail. I open the box and see that my cracked screen was repaired. “This must be a new phone.” I image the repair techs received my phone and promptly threw it into the trash. I turn it on, holding my hands in a prayer position, and wait for the start up screen. Success! It comes alive. I can connect to the internet but I still can’t make phone calls. “The SIM card is locked.” What. The. Fuck. I call Sprint to see if they can fix the issue. To my surprise I was connected with a human and they were able to reassign my SIM card with little effort on my end. They stay on the line while I send a text to my Dad’s phone and make a phone call. Oh happy day it works! Thank you, thank you, thank you! It’s finally over. I half considered writing them a positive review for my service. But fuck them, taking days off my life with stress doesn’t justify writing a review at all.
Reflecting on this ordeal I try to think about what I can learn from all this fuckery? The policies of both Sprint and Apple aren’t exactly in place to help but rather to prevent theft and make sure they get paid. I had done nothing wrong but I was placed in this position because a faulty product had been sent out for sale. Had I not been able to use my parent’s phones I wouldn’t have been able to remedy any of these issues. I thank them for that. The second lesson is to always, I repeat always, remember your passwords. Keep them in a book, memorize them, one day you may have to go through hoop after hoop of authentication confirmations. The third and probably most important lesson to keep in mind here is that if you’re in a position like I was, remember you are the richest poor person in the world. I should be so lucky to have these problems. I could live in an area where I have to travel by horseback to communicate with someone or I could be getting my hand cut off for stealing food to survive. I may have shit luck but I’m alive. I have shelter and the people I love near me, and I got my phone back. What else could I want?