Saturday, September 6, 2008

Rage Against the Machine

The Techno-Gizmo Machine is winning.

Sometimes I think I can deal with the gadgets, devices, passwords, access cards, pin numbers, etc. that the Machine requires to be a part of out lives. Sometimes I actually think I can win.

The events of the past several weeks demonstrate that I am wrong.

I recently went to Staples to purchase a switch that would enable me to connect a computer to my cable modem via an Ethernet cable as well as the wireless router. I was pretty proud of myself for having figured this out.

As I was checking out, the young lady at the register asked if I had a Staples Discount Card. I replied that I did not. “Yes, you do,” she said with that eager, ready to pounce expression that the young get when they have cornered an elder. Now I was confused. What high tech magic had she worked on her register that would convey this information, considering I hadn't even found my debit card yet? "I really don't think I have a Staples card," I said with just a hint of uncertainty creeping into my voice. "Sure you do," she replied,“I can see it in your wallet.” Sure enough, my wallet was open on the counter as I groped about for my debit card. Then, with a lightening fast move that would have brought a tear to old Fagan’s eye, she deftly snatched a Staples card from between my ShopRite Price Plus Card and my Sam’s Club Membership.

“There, all set,” she cheerfully gloated. I stood there with the dumb look of a rube who has just had a quarter pulled from his ear by the carnival magician. Now, I know my wallet is a black hole where sales receipts go to be magically recycled into blank sheets of paper, but I have no idea where the Staples card came from.

Whatever joy I felt from solving my computer problem vanished. The Machine trumped me with a discount card.

Another seeming victory was similarly snatched away. I have managed to negotiate a deal for the Triple Play from Comcast that packages upgraded cable television, broadband internet, and digital phone for the same price as I was formerly paying for just basic cable. This required hours on hold and dozens of phone conversations that took me from the depths of Arkansas to the outskirts of Lahore.

Unfortunately, just two weeks after we were up and running with all computers connected, a violent thunderstorm fried our modem. We returned from vacation to find we had no phones, and no internet. Kathie observed that in 30 years with the phone company we had never lost our service. This was spoken with what I interpreted as an accusatory tone.

One minute I was Steven Jobs, the Poor Soul the next.

Two days later, a repairman apparently suffering from clinical depression showed up at our house to install a new modem. When he was finished I asked if there was anything else I should know. He just gave a shrug that suggested that not knowing was always the better option and gloomily strode out the door.

A week later, I got a call from a Comcast rep inquiring if I was satisfied with the service and the installation personnel. I didn’t tell her how I had to accompany the installer on his mission because I feared he would throw himself out the third floor window. She asked if he had explained the service and how the various features worked. I hesitated to criticize the unstable installer because I don’t want to be a stop on his hit parade when he finally snaps. I did say that perhaps he was a teensy bit vague. She promised to send me the Welcome Package, which, of course, never came.

Cut to last weekend. I am boasting to my nieces about my prowess in negotiating the Triple Play and saving big bucks. Of course, I leave out the part about the violent thunderstorm and two phoneless days. They ask how I like the digital phone. I reply that I can’t get used to the dial tone which consists of three short bursts followed by the normal tone.

“That means you have a message in your voice mail box,” they say with their eyeballs rolling skyward in unison. “Didn’t anyone explain THAT to you?”

No, they didn’t, but we still eagerly await our Welcome Package. As I write this I am on hold with Comcast because we have just had a brief power outage that seems to have fried my new connector switch that I just purchased at Staples at great cost to my self-esteem.

At this point I surrender to the Machine. I will run a digital white flag up the old internet flagpole. If only I could remember my password to it’s web site.

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