In response to the story about Sen. Schumer’s apparently calling a flight attendant a “bitch,” Amanda Marcotte has some interesting thoughts (here) about how middle-class people treat service personnel. This reminded me of the recent Crooked Timber post about trolls (here—it’s also worth following the link), because I think there is a kind of snide, impersonal style of interaction that people sometimes are tempted to adopt in public, and trollishness has more than a little in common with that.
I suspect this habit is a temptation to which academics, and also pedants in general (no shortage of those on the Internet!), occasionally succumb, when they are talking to a customer service person who seems less knowledgeable than maybe ought to be the case. I have in mind primarily situations where you have asked someone for information, especially technical information, and you think you know more about the subject matter than they do.
It is not your job to take the service person to school over the issue you’re discussing with him or her.
What good could possibly result from doing so?
In the very best case, you might just possibly open up a dialogue between the service person and the more knowledgeable people in his or her organization. The service person might become better educated, and the organization might become aware of the need for better training. But this is very unlikely.
If you make the service person feel bad about not knowing enough, he or she may blame the knowledgeable people they interact with, for not teaching them enough, or for teaching them misleading things. He or she may blame the people they work with for being, as you demonstrated to them, wrong. He or she may totally misunderstand, and make up a narrative around the incomprehensible things you said to them, as best they can manage to interpret it. (They may blame you for being a jerk, but only if they are so confident in themselves that it never occurs to them that they could be in the wrong, and it never occurs to them that their information was lacking, in any way, in the first place.)