This may be a golden age for the tech consumer.

But some of us still haven't received the empowerment memo.

Faced with a device going berserk or balky software, we know what we should do -- screech and holler on message boards and social media until a solution is found.

But some people -- like me -- assume the fault is not in the gadgets but in ourselves.

So it was a revelation when I read last month that Apple was offering a free battery replacement for people who bought versions of the iPhone 5 between September 2012 and January 2013.

Turns out my personal odyssey of rapid battery life reduction wasn't because of something I was doing wrong, as I had assumed. It had nothing to do with possessing too many photos, keeping open too many apps, hoarding too many e-mails.

It's just a technical issue affecting a "very small percentage" of iPhone 5 owners, Apple said.

Oh joy! I entered my serial number into the Apple site. Yes, I qualified. I quickly signed up for an Apple Store Genius Bar appointment. The cavalry was on its way.

The experience made me wonder whether we have become any better at being tech consumers. In the bad old days, we just accepted glitchy software and buggy devices as the price of being on the cutting edge of technology.

Now we have an array of gadget choices and many places to turn for help.

But even with that, many of us still look inward. Why?

Gadgets are complex and there is "a potentially overwhelming span of control issues," said James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, a market research firm.


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As a consumer tries to consider the possible causes of a problem, "they quickly realize they have no idea where to turn to resolve the situation," he said.

Instead, they go for the short-cut answer: The problem is me.

Add to that, popular consumer products like the iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy, which has had its own battery issues, have a certain aura, said Lars Perner, an assistant professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business.

"One may be even more reluctant to judge the product when it is a 'star' type product such as the iPhone with a large, fanatical following," Perner said. "It is just not the kind of product that you would expect to fail."

My situation is familiar to Jeff Kear, owner of Planning Pod, a Colorado Web-based event management software firm.

In the small number of cases when a customer's problem is on his firm's end, he asks why they didn't complain.

"They don't complain because they just assume they have hit the limitations of the technology," he said.

In other words, we still forgive tech for being new in a way that we wouldn't a glitchy car or a blender with a faulty button.

Even I realized my battery situation was absurd.

I can't unplug my iPhone for more than an hour or risk it going dead. I planned my outings in short increments like I'm incontinent.

My family members (mostly my 11-year-old son, the household's IT staff) castigated me for bad iPhone behavior. Why is your GPS on, why do you have 2,427 unread email messages?

I've Googled the problem repeatedly, followed advice on message boards, installed an app that evaluates battery use and advises which apps may be battery-killing junk.

Therefore, like a patient knowing that my aches and pains all make sense, I was excited walking into the Apple store on Monday. And when the Apple staffer showed me a diagnostic chart detailing my iPhone's poor battery life, I just nodded in happiness. Yep, not in my head.

That joy was momentarily marred when I learned that the iPhone battery issue is worldwide and that the Apple store did not have enough replacements. I would have to come back.

I was now a bit empowered: How many trips will this be, I demanded. Why didn't someone just email me to save me the trouble? I left in a huff.

And then my phone went dead.

Contact Michelle Quinn at 510-394-4196 and mquinn@mercurynews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/michellequinn.