If you frequent the comment box, you’re familiar with Ken Rolph, our resident Australian (actually, he’s residing in Australia and we all gather wherever via the magic of the internet.) He posted this to a forum we both belong to, and I asked permission to post it here, which he granted. I think all of us can relate to the tech-woes.
I have just effectively had a quarter of the year trashed by big companies and their technology. Early in January I got my MacBook Pro upgraded 2 system jumps, and there are still things I can’t do. The helpful Apple Centre geniuses mentioned that this machine would be declared “vintage”, by which they meant “buy something new or go away”.
My ISP was bought by a large telecom and shut down. We naturally had to move to something else, so on 15 January we signed with a new, large telecom for phone and internet. They would supply a cable modem, wonderfully fast and fully featured. We didn’t have a cable, or even a pipe, so we had to go through all that. A technician finally put a cable into our study, leaping from the skirting board to the desk in an elegant arc that would be easy to trip over. He turned the modem on and went on his way with a cheerful, “Just start up your browser. It’s all automatic.”
Which was partly true. The modem took control of our portal and tried to access the registration page. Then came back an error message that said we couldn’t register at that time, and to try again tomorrow. In cheerful innocence I believed it at first.
For the next 45 days our browser would do nothing else but go around this loop. We called for help and went through another loop. The person on the end of the phone (in the Philippines or India) could not solve the problem. They would pass it on to an activation team, and someone would call me back the next day. They never did. No one could or would explain what the problem was. At the end a technician admitted that there was a problem with the new software that was trapping thousands of new users in this loop.
Unwired was to shut down on 28 February, so we were getting a little desperate. On 22 February, out of the blue, our local federal member of parliament rang up. She was a student of Jan’s and wanted her help in a local project. There’s a federal election coming up and this makes political parties a bit ready to connect with local voters.
We mentioned our problem with the telecom. The MP said to drop photocopies of our dealings down to the electorate office on Monday morning. Which we did. That afternoon the phone began to ring with apologetic telecom technicians, activation team leaders, official apologisers. We had 6 returned phone calls over the next two days. On 28 February, at midday, a technician turned up (not at the appointed time, of course) with a new user name and password scrawled in texta on a piece of cardboard. He did something to the modem and we were away and registered in an instant.
The next couple of weeks were spent updating our online presence. This creeps up on you over the years. I had a two-page list of places where my email address was used in a meaningful way. It took a long time to update because of all those passwords. The most security conscious financial institution kept me going for an afternoon. Log in and add a new password. Wait for an email telling me that I’ve added a new email and need to confirm it. Change the new email to be the primary one. Wait for an email . . . Delete the old email. Wait for an email . . .
Last week we sat down to calmly survey the damage and look for the way ahead. Exactly 3 months ago we had a home network linking seamlessly 4 computers and 2 printers. Relatives and friends could come with their laptops, phones, pads and I could just add their MAC number to our access list and all would work slowly but reliably. Now nothing worked with anything else. So I pulled it all apart and put the cables in a drawer and started again. One cable modem wirelessly to one Mac, with a colour printer plugged directly to it. The rest of the stuff didn’t fit into the picture at all. So we thought we would get some new technology. Jan bought an iPad mini. I got out an iPod which I had acquired some time ago and never been able to use because of software incompatibilities. Now it worked. We set up Jan with her own personal email address. Up till now she had to use the school one or mine. Of course the incoming/outgoing mail settings were different from the leaflet that came with our new modem, but I was able to read the account the technician had set up on my machine.
Then, in the snail mail, we got a threatening letter from our new telecom wanting to cut off our service because we hadn’t paid any of our accounts. What accounts? It seems that although the technical department could not give us internet access for 45 days, the billing department efficiently sent our January and February bills to an email address we never had and are never likely to have. I got that sorted out.
On Friday afternoon I got a call from a bubbly voice henchperson of our telecom. She said they had noticed that I just changed my email address and wondered if everything was okay and working properly. I gave her a sardonic account of the past three months. She didn’t seem the slightest bit disturbed. Either she was used to hearing the story, or she hadn’t yet done the official grovelling apologiser course. Inevitably we got to the date of birth question. She said I sounded younger than that and that my attitude to technology reminded her of her dad. She said it might be a generational difference. She said we was twenty . . . well, you know what I’m going to say. The driving force underlying all art and commerce of Western Civilisation — the energetic 23-year-old woman. I ended up agreeing that the new service was all fabulous. Later I thought about not being like someone’s dad and 1967 — a great year for music.
Saturday. I got some Beach Boys music for the iPod and went into the garden. The darn device locked itself on CoverFlow and wouldn’t shift. So I couldn’t change the volume. So I couldn’t hear above the noise of the lawnmower. Jan called for help with her new iPad, which had gone to a blank blue screen and wouldn’t shift. I said, “I’ve had it with technology. I’m going to read a book.” So I went and sat of the teak seat under the shade of the melaleuca tree in the back garden. Later Jan bought me a cup of tea, and very unkindly pointed out that there was a contradiction between escaping technology and reading a Kindle DX. I said that’s not technology. That works.
My new definition of technology. Offers you heaven: leaves you in hell. You can’t get it to a stable point where you can just use it for work and play. Someone has to keep moving the bits. It’s like a carpenter having to spend all their time fitting new handles to a hammer head and never getting to use it to hit a nail. I said to myself, I wish I still had a typewriter.
Sunday the grandkids came and I was thoroughly escaping technology. In the garage I found some old boxes we hadn’t got around to in our pre-retirement cleanup. I pulled out a vinyl LP of Also Sprach Zarathustra, which was #1 on the hit parade around the time when the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey was showing. I asked #1 grandson what it was. He replied with all the confidence of his 4 years that it was a DVD. I hear that cheap turntables are available again.
Also in the box were the last few audio cassettes we still have. One was a large wraparound plastic pack containing 6 cassettes of the Beach Boys; the Capitol Years. I started listening to it in the afternoon. It reminded me a earlier times when I thought things were possible. There used to be a booklet with it. I wondered if I could find a copy still around. After all, we have this wonderful internet stuff which contains all human knowledge. So I googled. I couldn’t find the booklet. I couldn’t find any mention at all the cassette version. A Wikipedia page mentioned a 6 LP and a 4 CD set. Frequently I find that information on the internet is inaccurate, misleading or simply missing. Of course it only contains what people put there.
Over supper Jan and I considered what to do. Then we remembered that we are old and rich, so we said, right, we’ll just buy new stuff. After she went to bed I sat holding the Beach Boys cassettes and thinking about the inadequacies of the internet and its many betrayals. It only contains what people put there. But wait, I’m a people! So I signed up to be a Wikipedia contributor and made my first addition.
This morning I sat pondering what to do with the old technology. Then I realised that I do have a typewriter. There is a functioning Macintosh and a functioning laser printer, which work together. All my problems had been with connectivity. I could still write and print out things for editing. And I can cable the two Macs together and pass stuff via the drop boxes.
One day, perhaps, I can get back to a point where I can use all this technology to do actual work.