I’ve always hated James Coburn as an actor; somehow his smartass persona always rubbed me the wrong way, no matter what role he was playing. And perhaps for that reason I have always been skeptical of the philosophy that sprang from his great movie The President’s Analyst, namely that the phone company is the root of all evil.
Until this week, that is.
I finally had to face up to the shortcomings of my internet provider of many years. Much as I love Dennis and Cody, who have patiently fielded so many of my calls for help (yes, I still got to talk to native-born American techies when I called tech support, and they work three miles from my home!) it was time for a divorce. My geek told me to take AT&T up on their recent offer of DSL service at a cheap introductory rate, so we called and said do it. They said the switchover would occur a week in the future and the tech would show up sometime between 8 and 5 to do it.
So imagine my surprise when the next morning I woke up to find no internet connection. My buddy Dennis told me that was because AT&T told them to pull the plug, they were taking over. (Then I had to apologize to Dennis for deserting him.)
Next I called AT&T. Yes, they pulled the plug, because my new service was to begin that very day. But they told me yesterday it would be next week. Yes, but we determined we could do it with the flick of a switch, no tech visit required, so good news, it’s happening today! That’s nice, but exactly when today? No idea. Why did you tell Dennis to pull the plug if you weren’t ready to flick the switch?
Because nobody knows exactly when THE SYSTEM is going to be ready.
Hold that thought – it will recur, and recur, and recur. (I talked to eight different people plus three automatic voices; at least the automatic voices didn’t make me repeat the last four digits of my Social Security number as every one of the people did. And at least the automatic voices didn’t begin their remarks as the people did, by saying “it’s a wonderful day at AT&T, what can we do to make your day wonderful?”)
You could tell me how I will know when THE SYSTEM has actually flicked the switch. One guy thought I could look at the red light on my modem, and when it turned green, I would know. Another guy said good news, it has already happened! I’ll transfer you to tech support and they’ll tell you what to type in on your end and you’re in business! The next guy said no it hadn’t already happened, and I would have to call tech support at some future moment and ask them. Should I do this every hour on the hour? No, wait till 8 or 9 pm or maybe even later but I swear to you it will be done by “the end of the calendar day.”
One woman told me THE SYSTEM hadn’t completed the order. What did it need to complete it, I asked, several times, and if you don’t know, who does? Finally she snapped back at me, I don’t know what THE SYSTEM needs, all I know is that THE SYSTEM hasn’t completed the order, there is nobody you can talk to, you just have to wait for THE SYSTEM to complete!
As the day wore on I still had no internet connection, and although I wasn’t even yet a customer of AT&T I was feeling really bad about the possibility of becoming one. But I like to look for deeper meaning in the unfair stupidities of daily life, and I have chosen to focus on that profound statement: “there is nobody you can talk to, you just have to wait for THE SYSTEM to complete!”
This is the dilemma that faces us in so many contexts at so many times in our wondrous technology-assisted lives. We didn’t die in our 52 internet-free hours, although I was appalled to realize how many ordinary tasks were thwarted because our connection was down. A winter storm bore down on us and my husband couldn’t check the weather radar. A crossword puzzle stalled and I couldn’t google the four look-up-able clues. I couldn’t post to my blog or check email. And all my indignant attempts to talk to a human being and demand justice were total failures. This sort of thing happens to us a lot – the city won’t clear snow from our street, the power goes out as frequently as in third-world nations, our senators are neanderthals, my new allegedly Antarctic-strength gloves couldn’t keep my fingers warm for ten minutes -- and a responsible human being, let alone justice, is beyond our grasp.
To stay sane, you have to find the right balance between the quest for justice and serene acceptance of the inevitable frustrations of life. Perhaps that’s why so much of my art has to do with the fragility of the bonds that hold our society together. There is nobody you can talk to, you just have to wait for THE SYSTEM to complete.