I just had a very thought-provoking phone call with the “support department of Microsoft”.
It started very politely… “Sir, we are calling you because your Microsoft computer has not been receiving important kernel updates.”
He asked me, “Are you sitting in front of your computer?”
Well not technically — I was making a cup of coffee — but near enough.
“Sir, I want to find the Ctrl key in the extreme bottom left of your keyboard. Have you found it? Can you tell me what the button immediately next to it is?”
Ah, this is where it would have been helpful to be sitting in front of my computer.
“Um, is it the big green button that says this is a scam?”
“What are you on about, sir? This is not a scam. If you are worried it is a scam you can do your own research and you will find out this is a genuine call.”
“I have received the same call on several occasions now. I know it is a scam. I have verified that it is a scam. It is a scam.”
“Sir, this is not a scam. I can assure you.”
“Listen, you sound like an intelligent man. You have a wonderful telephone manner. It sounds like you know something about computers. Why not try applying for an IT support job in a legitimate IT company? I’m sure you would go far.”
“Sir, what are you on about, sir? If you are worried about this being a scam, you can put your phone down on me right now.”
“I know, but it wouldn’t be very polite.”
“And it’s just that everyone knows that India is the IT hub of the world. There must be hundreds of start-ups you could work for. But scamming people is not good for you. It’s not a nice thing to do.”
“SCAMMING? You, YOU! You of all people accusing me of scamming? Don’t you know what you did to my country? You’re the biggest scammer. You come along saying you’re doing business and the next thing we know you’ve taken over the country. You, SIR, are the SCAMMER!”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right in a way, that’s quite true. But there’s what nation states do, and there’s individual responsibility. And really, doing this is not good for you on an individual level…”
“YOU came over here, and slaughtered thousands, THOUSANDS of people. You SIR are the SCAMMER. How dare you call me a scammer. You are the SCAMMER. You killed millions of people. You went all over the world scamming people. Do you read the news?”
“Then you know then, don’t you? You know! You are the SCAMMER. You are scamming the whole world! So how dare you accuse me of being a scam. You, SIR, are the SCAM.”
“Yes, well I take your point. There’s truth in what you say. But, you know, I still think you should consider how your personal actions affect others. You know, there are 1.4 million Indians in the UK. Lots of people who weren’t responsible for Colonialism are going to answer your call and…”
I’ve gone too far.
“GET OFF MY PHONE!” he yells at me and the line goes dead.
The truth is, he sounded like an educated man. He was probably over-qualified to be working in a call centre. No doubt he had a family to feed, and any job with a salary is better than no job. And as for morality: his actions were low level compared to the activities of “legitimate” banks offering subprime loans and rigging the market.
As I replaced the handset on the phone, and took off my contemptuous Techie mantle, these thoughts occurred to me: he was fundamentally correct. And: this is how much of the world views Britain. Something we may have to take on board.
But more profoundly: how terribly arrogant of me to make assumptions about the availability of “choice” in the job market. Some of us have luxuries others don’t; most people just have hard choices.
“It is easy to choose between right and wrong. But to choose the greater of two goods or the lesser of two evils. Those are the choices of our life.” — film Fanaa, 2006