Last Thursday dawned like any other Thursday. I had promised to babysit my nieces while K went to a school meeting in the afternoon. I went about my morning chores etc. nothing unusual. At about 11:30, I went to pick up the phone to make a call and the handset said CHECK PHONE LINE. I unplugged and re-plugged the phone, nothing happened. At about the same time, I realised that we also didn’t have internet access (duh, it’s via the phone line). Thinking nothing of it, I told Mum the phones were down and they should be back soon, and then went off to K’s to kiss my nieces. A lot.

Three hours later, I was in the garden playing with G who has developed this fear of bugs which means that she chases them around and squashes them until they’re “died”.
“I dieded that one before, Mimi and then it came back to life, like Jesus, so I dieded it again, and now it’s really died.”
I tried to explain that she had nothing to fear from ants. After all, they can’t hurt her and she is really big compared to them. Also with flies, which produce a loud and ear splitting squeal from her along with loud shouts of “Shoo!”. I explained that flies were so scared of us that even if we moved slightly towards them, they flew away scared. This sparked a tour of the garden terrorising flies which she announced proudly that she is no longer afraid of. I didn’t mention that the sight of spiders any bigger than a pinhead make me hyperventilate.  There is such a thing as oversharing.

Anyway, the phone rang inside their house. In most homes the phone is in a specific location and therefore fairly easy to answer. In my sister’s house, it alternates between a few locations and so there is an element of the 80s TV show Treasure Hunt. It isn’t a cordless phone – those are fun, they could be anywhere, but it does sometimes live in their kitchen underneath several layers of accumulated junk. When I first heard their phone ring, I wondered why it was so loud. Now I know. It is so that they can echo-locate it when it rings. Anyway, I located the phone, answered it and it was Mum.
“Maria, the phone and internet are still down. I think you should call BT.”
I had forgotten about it, but I assume for Mum alone at home, no internet must have been quite irritating.
“Ok, Mum, I’ll find out the number and give them a call.”
I knew there was no point in trying to do this at home. All the ways to report a fault with BT involve use of your phone line or internet. I asked K to look it up and it took her 20 minutes of navigating through web pages and jumping through hoops to get a number I could call. The truth is big utility companies would rather not talk to you. They would rather either pass you off to a recorded message, or a youtube instructional video. Finally I got through to a person.
“Hi, our phone line is down and as a result we also don’t have access to the internet. Could you check the line please?”
“Hi Madam, what is the number please?”
I gave them the number.
“What is your name and the first line of your address?”
I told them.
“What is your postcode?”
I told them again.
“And are you the account holder?”
“Yes,” I said, wondering when the questions about marital status and nationality would come up, “Could you check the line?”
“Please hold.”
I held on while terrible music crackled on the line. Three or four minutes later (which felt like an age what with the tinny crackly music and the fact that you are tied to the phone) he came back.
“Hello Madam, thank you for holding.”
“Sure, what’s the problem?”
“It appears there is a problem with your exchange Madam. We will send an engineer to have a look.”
“OK, when will he be here?”
“No, Madam, he doesn’t need access to your property, he just needs to work on the exchange. We should be able to fix it by Tuesday July 8th at 5pm.”
I gulped. It was Thursday lunchtime. “Er that’s 5 days away. You expect us to be without phone or internet for five days?”
“I am not saying it will definitely take that long Madam, just that we always allow three working days for these jobs, and tomorrow is Friday, then it’s the weekend, and then Monday and Tuesday.”
“I am paying a lot of money for your bells-an- whistles, unlimited, all inclusive telephone and broadband. I think that 5 days is too long.” As I was saying it, I realised the futility of it. After all, this guy was not responsible for the system, neither was he able to do much about it. Still I felt I should say a few things to register my displeasure. It was either that or going home and being grumpy with Mum and it definitely wasn’t her fault.
“I just think,” I continued, “that if the problem is your fault, then you should have engineers working on it urgently, and that includes weekends. I will expect to be refunded for however many days I have been without a phone line and internet.”
“Let’s just get you sorted out Madam, and then give us a call (and wait in a telephonic abyss until your ears drop off or your bum goes completely numb) and we can discuss compensation. I have sent you an email with the fault details so that you can get updates.”
“Please also send me a text. I don’t have internet, so email is a bit of a problem.”
“Oh, yes, apologies Madam, I have now sent you a text, you can reply to it for updates at no extra charge.”
“Is there a number I can call. It is all in the text Madam, but you can just dial 151 from your phone.”
“I don’t have a phone line.”
“Of course, Madam. Apologies. Thank you for calling BT today. We will have an engineer working on it from tomorrow.” Dial tone.
I drove home and gave Mum the news. “It could be like this until next Tuesday,” I said.
There was a silence when we both digested this information.
“Oh, well, how bad can it be? We still have TV and there is plenty of sport to watch at the weekend.” This weekend was World Cup quarter finals and Wimbledon finals weekend, and we had all planned to do some fairly major viewing.
I have to say, that I had no idea how much I rely on the internet. Let me just say off the bat, that I don’t have a smartphone. This means that when I don’t have internet connection I don’t have access to anything that requires internet connection. I know it’s hard to comprehend if you have a smartphone, but then I am not sure if we actually realise how much we have come to rely on the internet.

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Let us leave aside the obvious things: checking email, facebook, twitter and any of the other myriad social media sites available. I won’t go into those, because those are things that we didn’t ever do without using the internet.
Let’s go to the things that we did do before the advent of the internet.
For example. If we wanted to know what the weather was going to be like, we would watch the news on TV and listen to the weatherman. It wasn’t always 100% accurate, but you got a vague idea. If you hadn’t caught the news, you could check your newspaper. If you hadn’t bought a paper that day, you could open your front door or lean out of your window, look up at the sky or down at the pavement, see if you were warm enough and base your decision on that. I have found that if extreme weather is predicted, people tend to talk about it so it is almost impossible not to be aware of an approaching snowstorm/gale force winds/torrential rain. Now however, when I am leaving, I look up the weather and base my decision of what to take with me on the BBC’s hour by hour weather reports for my area and the area I am going to. When did that become a thing? I just fell into it without thinking, and now that I am reading what I have written, I feel stupid. But I don’t think that I am alone with this. Even within this last point there is another. Who buys a newspaper any more? I certainly don’t. Maybe when my parents are in town, I get a paper from the local newsagent 4 days out of 7. When they aren’t here, I get all the news online. If I haven’t been ‘at my desk’ for a few days, I can completely miss out on major world events. For example, I was travelling the day that King Juan Carlos of Spain abdicated in favour of his son, and it completely passed me by. I heard something about it 3 weeks later, and was the only idiot in the room who didn’t know. It’s not the first time I have been the only idiot in the room, but I did wonder how I had managed to miss it after only one day away from a computer. I guess being faced with five days of no computer, I was anticipating a lot of ignorance.
These are just two examples of things that I thought to do but was unable to due to the lack of a phone line. Others included: completing my tax return, checking my bank balance, doing the online shop, setting up my new kindle, setting up D’s new phone, putting up a blogpost, offering any kind of useless information asked by my Dad, in particular: Why is Costa Rica so called? I couldn’t go online and read the reaction to the matches I watched, and I actually managed to miss several people’s birthdays. What I learned was that this addiction to the internet is a terrible affliction which hinders our ability to retain information. It used to be that when I found a recipe that I liked, I would write it into my recipe book – a special and meaningful gift from my godfather now completely falling apart but still the most loved and well-used book in my life. I would keep the recipe in a file as well. I mean finding a recipe that worked was a big deal. Now, I just type what I am looking for into google and presto magic, there is the recipe along with about 400,000 others for me to try. If I had wanted to make something I didn’t have the recipe for last weekend though, I wouldn’t have been able to make it. Just like mobile phones have negated the need for us to actually remember telephone numbers, so the internet has negated the need for us to ever have anything in print or in mind. And although having unlimited information on tap is a massive advantage, it would be irresponsible of us not to acknowledge its drawbacks. I will also mention the other, most inconvenient drawback: never being able to be further than two metres away from a power point for longer than three hours.
During the weekend, I tried to get in touch with BT using the only two methods that didn’t involve being online or on my own BT landline. The update was:

THANK YOU FOR YOUR REQUEST FOR AN UPDATE. ONE OF OUR AGENTS WILL LOOK INTO IT AND GET BACK TO YOU AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

WE ARE WORKING ON A SOLUTION TO THE FAULT. WE WILL HAVE MORE NEWS AT 5PM ON TUESDAY 8TH JULY.

Right, so handy and really reassuring.
On Monday morning at 08:45 the internet came back on and the phone lines started working. I have a theory that the engineer showed up on Monday morning at 08:30, fiddled about for 10 minutes and then fixed it. I reckon that if he had turned up on Friday, we wouldn’t have had to wait the whole weekend. That aside, we couldn’t have been happier if we had won the lottery. Immediately, I checked my emails and saw that I had received 250 emails of which I deleted 225 immediately. Apart from one email that involved re-juggling a meeting we had set up for this week, it was all stuff that could wait. And that is my point. While I had been stressing about how I didn’t have access to the internet, there was really no problem. I did what I would have done in the past on a quiet weekend. I watched the news on TV, bought a newspaper, went out with friends and played tennis and cards (no internet required), got a mini statement from the ATM and generally had a relaxing weekend. At least it feels relaxing now that I have written about it, but at the time, it was there in the background of my consciousness, this unease, this tension about not being able to access the internet. I need to seek help about this, because all weekend, everyone kept telling me I should buy a smartphone and then this wouldn’t be an issue.
And I found myself thinking about it, even though all of my previous experiences with these types of phone have shown me that I am not in fact smart enough to have a smartphone. And then the internet came back on and I happily let all thoughts of smartphones glide away into the cloud. I’m fine. I have a phone line and access to the truth about Costa Rica.

All is well with the world.

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