Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Information Age Up Close and Personal

It turns out that the AT&T modem, which we use to get our access to the Internet, has an “issue” (as they call it) with it power cord. You know the kind I mean—with a little transformer that feels warm when it’s plugged in. When this “issue” arises, the modem fails. Good-bye web. The quick solution is to zip off to your AT&T outlet to buy a new one for $10 and change. But before this happens, you have to know the cause. You need information. The power cord remains warm to the touching hand.

So this actually happened to us yesterday. We lost our connection. But then, a short while later, it came back. And again. And yet a third time. Eventually it went away for good. Our modem’s power light began to blink green; then it turned a steady red. The DSL light went off altogether.

Our AT&T bill has a phone number to call for Internet support. The person you get to talk to, however, is called Mr. Recorded Voice. He takes you through a series of questions to which you are supposed to answer, as in by voice: Living Voice answering Recorded Voice. Way, way, way down a long network of linking chains, you will at last get switched to Technical Support—where a real voice answers. By that time you’re on you second call, because you interrupted the first call to reset the machine and to unplug the modem.

During my second call, suddenly, the Internet was back. I told the Ms. Live Voice about that. She was glad. But I asked her. Had there been some kind of outage? She said she’d check. While she checked I grooved out on some popular but nameless orchestral music. At last she returned and said that Yes, there had been an outage, but it had been put right already. Well, thank the stars, etc., I said, and we parted.

Alas, 15 minutes later the red light was back. And this time it stayed that way. Late last night Brigitte made the third call—but after I’d already gone to bed. She was told that the modem had to be taken in to the store or, alternatively, AT&T would schedule a visit. But this being then the first hour of Saturday, Brigitte couldn’t do much. She also failed to write me a note, hence, awakening this morning…

… I made the fourth—and also the longest—call. It lasted the better part of an hour. I too eventually got the message that the modem needed to be “taken in.” Ms. Living Voice this time—who again materialized, if that’s the word, after I endured the overly friendly Mr. Recorded Voice—diagnosed the problem as hardware. But this time—and that’s why it took so long—her back-up people actually determined (1) that there was (and continued to be) a massive outage in Detroit; (2) that I lived about three blocks from the border of Detroit, (3) that my network was not part of the massive outage, (4) I was getting a DSL signal, but that, and finally, (5) my modem wasn’t getting it, which Ms. Living voice inferred from the way the buttons were lit or not lit. And she also gave me the phone number and address of the nearest AT&T store. I called that number when the store opened, went through another session with Mr. Recorded Voice II, got a technician. “It’ll be the power cord,” he said. “That’s it nine times out of ten.” And when I got to the store twenty minutes later, that was, indeed, the case. He escorted me to the door. “There is an issue with those things,” he said. Another twenty minutes later, we were up again.

Now this made me think about the Information Age. Had my first call reached a knowledgeable person, I would have got that cord yesterday already. But such is the nature of this age—and companies so love their profits and therefore so hate to pay real people to provide real services—that we spent several hours trying to discover that this modem had a problematic power cord easily replaced at the nearest Radio Shack—although AT&T thought it best to go to the source.

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