June 28, 2004, 10:03 AM — I need to rant a bit this week, but I hope you'll bear with me on this. I'm eventually going to get to a very important point about cell phones. In fact, the original title of this piece was going to be "Who owns your cell phone number?" -- but, like I said, I need to rant a little first.
The great management theorist Peter Drucker once said something that I think is lost on too many businesses today: the only possible legitimate reason for the existence of any enterprise is to serve a customer. Sure, the purpose of any business is to make at least enough money to keep the doors open, but said doors should remain in said position only for the benefit of the customer. The reason for this is that our particular economic system allows a high degree of choice; we usually have more than one source for a particular product or service, and competition serves to increase choice, lower prices, and improve quality -- a good portion of the time, anyway. Like many of you, I have developed a real intolerance for bad service (bad products I really don't see all that often; bad service, I do on a stunningly regular basis). At times, I think the relentless pursuit of profit at any cost is the reason behind this, and (as I'll get to shortly) this is one of those times.
Let me give you an example. Have you noticed that commercial television is becoming more or less unwatchable in real time? Why, you ask? Because there are simply too many commercials! At least 30 percent of every hour is consumed by ads, on essentially every channel. And the reason for this is that there are now so many channels that viewers are simply spread too thin -- and, as a consequence, those producing TV shows must charge less for advertising, since they are delivering fewer eyeballs to the screen. More frequent commercial breaks are necessary in order to generate the necessary revenue, and often run four minutes or more! Some stations even show ads for their programming during another program! Everywhere we go, we're being bombarded by ads, so much so that I think many people are now just numb to them. Federal legislation was required to deal with telemarketers (and this seems to be working well) and spam (so far, no effect, as near as I can tell). As for TV commercials, there's always TiVo -- but is TiVo watching you as well, in the hope of targeting even more ads your way? The bottom line here is that we customers are being abused -- the products and services we buy are coming with an awful lot of baggage.