Cyberclinic

More computers, smartphones and techy paraphernalia are unboxed on 25 December than on any other day of the year. And it's no coincidence that more gadgets are sworn at, hurled across the room and, if a recent survey is to be believed, punched on Christmas Day than on any other day, too. I've never been convinced that meting out violence is the best way to solve problems, and the tragic image of a man throttling an iPod Shuffle in fury provides the perfect illustration of why this is. But we get driven to the edge of sanity by technology that's either broken, malfunctioning or horribly unintuitive to operate – and Yuletide isn't the best time to get help, what with switchboards closed, and your mate Steve who's "great with computers" in a self-induced coma after slugging back too much advocaat.

Virgin was behind the survey mentioned above, and it's sobering reading for technology manufacturers who feature the word "usability" prominently in their mission statements. According to the figures, we spend an almost unbelievable £7.27bn each year on gadgets that we never figure out how to use, with 56 per cent of us having at least one of these lying around, no doubt with its "quick start guide" frustratedly crumpled into a ball. The situation isn't helped by our reluctance to phone the manufacturer, with 78 per cent of us preferring to battle on rather than spend 20 minutes on the phone. Online forums are littered with posts from customers complaining about surly and unhelpful support staff, while others feature support staff recounting "hilarious" tales of how we're clueless idiots. It's a horrible impasse.

So, it wasn't a bad move for Virgin to launch their Digital Help last month. My parents, who spent Boxing Day unsure of how to get their digital camera talking to Google Picasa, could, in theory, pay a tenner a month to be hand-held to happiness whenever they have such problems. My friend Tommy, whose laptop has slowed to an embarrassing crawl, could pay £30 to have his system optimised remotely. The truly desperate could fork out £90 for a Virgin employee to come out for an hour of techy desk-side assistance. I can't vouch for the quality of service, though; the Digital Help website misbehaves appallingly on a Mac – regardless of which browser I use – and when I pointed this out to "Ronald" in Virgin's online chatroom, I was met with a resounding silence. I refrained from punching my computer monitor, though. To paraphrase Kenny Rogers, you don't have to fight to be a man with a functioning computer.





Email any technology gripes to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk

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