An Idiot Walks Into the Genius Bar

In the eyes of the Apple store employees, I was 'old lady + computer = worst nightmare'

Photograph by Getty Images

I always feel like an idiot at the Genius Bar. But today a Genius made me feel like an old idiot. She treated me as if I were 85, even though I'm not yet on Medicare. (AppleCare is more like it.)

My desktop was dying. I view a computer as utilitarian; I need one to do my work as a college professor. Yet I've always struggled with learning new technology. I don't like not knowing things.

The geniuses had to migrate my data. They were unable to deliver it in 24 hours, as promised. Humbly, I asked my 24-year-old daughter to meet me to make sure my thousands of files had transferred, but she was delayed at work.

Ms. Genius (one-third my age) brought out my computer: boxed and ready to migrate to its new abode. Asking her to plug it in, I wanted to test it first.

She reacted if I'd asked her to give me a dozen iPhones for free. She conferred with a Mr. Genius. Leaning over me, he sternly warned, "I can't teach you how to use the new computer."

"I never asked you to do that. I know how to use it." I feared being viewed as Amy Schumer's mother in her hilarious "Mom Computer Therapy."

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Mr. Genius unpacked my computer, complaining to Ms. Genius that these babies were packed for travel. I might as well have asked him to take apart the machine's guts and reassemble without a manual.

Another Genius chipperly inquired, "How's your day going?"

I began to lose it, like the hysterical over-the-hill lady that everyone thought I was. "This is my third time here in 24 hours!" I barked. "I've never had such bad customer service in my life!"

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Immediately, I regretted my outburst. Ms. and Mr. Genius sheepishly glanced down, as if I'd reported them to the school principal. As a college professor, I've counseled students to step up their classwork. Yet I was still an idiot at the genius bar.

Mr. Genius plugged in my Mac. "Do you need to sit down?" Ms. Genius asked.

Couldn't she tell I swam laps three times a week? That I wasn't her grandmother? In her eyes, I was "old lady + computer = nightmare."

I felt like my father when he couldn't understand my sixth-grade New Math curriculum. An engineer who taught me to use a slide rule, he couldn't help with my homework.

Every generation passes the one before it. I first noticed it when my daughter lost patience when I couldn't grasp Google Maps in a foreign country, even though she explained it six times. Or when she jumps in to insert my information into a Genius' mobile device for my new computer because she can do it faster. What's her rush? She has her life ahead of her. I'm the one who should be racing against time.

Migration complete, a dark ominous window popped onto the screen. Word could not be accessed. Robotically Ms. Genius said, "You'll need the key."

Ah, metaphor. Something I understood. The key turned out to be a numerical code in the black hole of my apartment.

"Did you originally download it from a disc?" she asked.

"Who remembers what I did in 2011?" Often I had to call my cell number to discover where I'd left my phone. "I'll ask my daughter." Why did I say that? My humiliation was amplifying externally as if I'd changed my font size to 48.

I waited, as if my daughter was fetching me from assisted living for an ice cream cone. My phone died. I asked Ms. Genius for a charger.

"This table doesn't have adapters," she said. "I don't want to make you move."

Had she ever seen me sprint to return a wide-angled tennis shot? Silently, I sank deeper into my backless stool.

My daughter flew in, determined to carry two desktops down a huge flight of stairs, and into a cab home.

"I'll ask someone to help," I insisted.

"I'm OK."

There I was, acting like my mother whenever I visited her in Florida. She'd insist on getting a cart to push my luggage up to her apartment. Annoyed, I wanted to carry it on my own.

I followed my daughter downstairs, holding a bulky boxed computer. Over her shoulder was a suitcase with my defunct machine. I had to get used to letting others lead the way, accepting that I was no longer in charge all the time.

In my office, she swiftly plugged in everything, intuitively navigating technology. She rushed out the door, calling back, "If you get stuck on anything, just text me."

I knew I would.

I remembered how to reinsert my email signatures into the new computer, I texted.

I taught you well, she texted back.

That weekend a corporate crisis management friend helped me craft a tweet, convinced I'd get a free computer in return.

Awful & insulting service @apple for my desktop purchase. The @geniusbar better upgrade their customer service skills.

Immediate reply: You're a valued member of the Apple family, and we never want you to feel otherwise. Can you send us a DM with details? We'll meet you there.

I met them privately in Twitterland, detailing my frustration and humiliation. The next day, a store manager left a voicemail. I reached an automated system, assuring me, "I can handle complete sentences!"

Placed on hold, I endured listening to Johnny Cash sing, "I fell into the burning ring of fire."

The manager handled complete sentences: "I apologize this happened to you. It's not our culture at Apple. We might have to retrain our staff."

She invited me to the store to "build a relationship." The only relationship I wanted were free products to mitigate my frustration. My daughter had a broken laptop. Gleefully, the manager made an appointment. We were greeted at the door by people in headphones who knew our names. The cheery manager escorted us up a flight of glass stairs like esteemed celebrities, delivering us to one of her greatest geniuses.

"I came to help my daughter resolve her technology problems," I joked.

"Did you back up?" Ralphie asked.

My daughter blushed. "No … I always tell my mom to back up before coming in, and here I am ..."

Ralphie gave her a free battery to replace her frayed one and a state-of-the-art flash drive. Her laptop was fixable.

Waving goodbye outside, I called after her, "Next time, back up!"

She laughed. I was back in the expert's seat, even though I'd continue to sprint to keep up with technology the faster it moves forward. But I'd discovered the power of Twitter. No more archaic customer service complaint letters for me! I might not be the most tech-savvy, but I was already crafting a tweet to emphasize how tech companies need to rethink how they treat "older" consumers. I couldn't wait to see the response.

Tags: technology