Saturday, October 20, 2007

Bang Rocks, Patrick Angry

This has not been a good week for me and technology. We have a wary relationship at best, I have to say. Even as I inch slowly into the twenty-first, okay, maybe the late twentieth century, embracing email (1998), getting a cell phone (2005) and cable internet (September 21st), I feel like I have still been watching it warily from outside the spaceship, hoping it hasn’t read my lips, and is about to shoot me into the ether.

I’ve had reason to be more wary than usual this summer, because of a number of struggles, though I guess some of them had more to do with bureaucracies than technology. First my wireless company informed me I was eligible for a free new phone, but when I got it, it turned out they had decided that what my high-powered, mover-and-shaker big pants lifestyle really required was a second LINE. I thought I had things quickly corrected with the helpful customer service person I spoke to ("this happens all the time," she said; yeah, I’ll bet, and what does that tell you?), but when I received my bill, there were the new line charges, complete with start-up fees. The second customer service agent was also helpful and accommodating, but next month the fees were still there, plus (naturally) a late fee. Third agent, third assurance that all was now resolved, and this time the bulk of the bill was corrected, and I decided I wasn’t going to contest the remaining annoying but reasonably small amount. To be fair, my bill this month showed that all the charges had been forgiven, meaning I was now ahead in payments, so it may have taken a while and a lot of aggravation, but we got where I wanted to go. More than one agent explained that the problem was due to the fact that charges were simply generated automatically by the computer, and it took a while for corrections to go through. In other words, the computer generally complicated and SLOWED THINGS DOWN.

There was a similar problem with some hospital bills I got this winter. I attended physical therapy twice a week for six weeks, in an (unsuccessful) attempt to alleviate chronic pain I’ve had for fifteen years. I was going to Bellevue because of their sliding scale fees, and was required to pay the bill before each treatment. More than once the cashier warned me to save my all my receipts because the system was archaic, I would probably receive bills for these sessions again, and it would take at least two weeks for the system to catch up with itself. Sure enough, I got several bills, including not one but two warnings that the account was about to be sent to a collection agency. I called the first time to find that they were about to bring out the big guns because they thought I owed $20. When I asked if that was the only outstanding fee, the cashier said yes, but it wasn’t. The second time the threat came while I was out of town for the month, so I had missed the "do it or you’re in big trouble, mister" date. That was this August, nearly five months after my final appointment. Okay, this problem has to do with archaic equipment, and chances are budgetary and scheduling concerns make it virtually impossible for Bellevue to upgrade, but still, I felt like I was caught up in a Terry Gilliam movie, where my credit rating might actually get damaged from a twenty dollar charge I had, in fact, paid.

Then this last month was the cable debacle (say that out loud, s’fun). I signed myself up for cable internet at my roommate’s request, so we could get a router and a home-networking system giving him wireless access on his laptop. So, I go on live chat (oh how I loathe that phrase now), order the whole package, and am told I should hear from my cable provider in three to five business days, but if I don’t, I should call them. Seven business days later I call Time Warner, and we schedule the next available appointment, which is ten days following. I chose not to do the self-installation since I believed I would be getting the whole shebang, router, and all. Nope, that doesn’t happen, so I wait a few more days at the ISP’s recommendation to get my ‘welcome kit’ in the mail with the router, cds, instructions, etc. The date passes, I go on live chat again, to find there is a mysterious hold on my order, which the nice agent claims he releases. Wait five to seven days, no router, no welcome kit, I contact them again, reluctantly going on live chat after learning that they make it virtually impossible to call on the phone, once again I’m told there is a hold, but now there isn’t, I should receive everything in twelve to twenty-four hours. He promises this is the last time I will have to contact them on this matter. Really. I’m chatting (live) the Friday before Columbus Day weekend, so I’m not expecting this timetable to be kept, but still, I feel a promise has been made. The following Tuesday I get a call from Earthlink wondering if I still wanted my cable hooked up because he saw I had placed an order, but it hadn’t yet happened. Back to live chat, since the number left on my answering machine doesn’t actually get me anywhere useful (they really really want you to use the live chat), saying I’ve had the hook-up for two weeks by this point, but I still haven’t received any of the other stuff I’d been promised, not even now, three days past the 24 hour deadline. This agent tells me that, here again, THEIR COMPUTER hasn’t registered the new information yet, as far as it’s concerned I have dial-up still, and more importantly, this information will not change until the 24th when my bill comes due. After that the computer will ‘know’ I am using cable internet, so then, and only then will it allow the router to go out. So, this guy tells me by the end of the month I will have all the equipment. I say I have trouble believing that, since I’ve contacted them four times now, gotten four different answers (though secretly I’m thinking this last one might be true, since it sounds the most plausible, and the least like something a customer would want to hear), and if the problem wasn’t resolved by the end of the month, I would change ISPs.

I get a phone call the next day from a customer service agent. She tells me she’s been reading all my correspondence with the company and ‘gotten frustrated’ on my behalf. She is pretty sure she knows the problem. When the cable signed me up, they signed me up for Road Runner, rather than Earthlink, both of which they handle. That does indeed prove to be the problem, so now, as of last Friday, I am waiting seven to ten business days to see if this equipment I didn’t even want and am unlikely ever to use finally shows up. I ain’t holdin’ my breath.

Then this last Monday I learned my cash card number had been stolen. To my good fortune the monitoring system caught it almost immediately and called me for verification. The thief managed to buy a $25 credit report, which scares me, but when he or she tried to buy a $400 airline ticket, no dice. This poor bastard thought this was a credit card, or he or she thought I had $400 to my name. Man, that kills me. How droll.

I’m relieved it all got resolved so quickly, and yes, that was thanks to technology, I admit, but I’m still freaked out by the theft. I’ve let the card out of my hand exactly once, to pay for a restaurant meal, almost every other time I’ve been swiping it through a machine at a store or paying bills online. Sure, it’s possible the waitress at the sushi place is the culpritt, but the odds really are it happened online. Some sort of worm, or trojan horse, or virus or phisher, or sculquer or cole-myner or theeph or sneeque got past my Norton protection that yes, I’m paying to protect me from such things even though we all acknowledge that it’s an uphill battle staying ahead the hackers, one of these little miters got through and read my number and the safety code. Chances are slim to none that this person will ever be caught, nor will I ever know exactly how it happened, so I don’t know how to avoid the problem in the future, short of not using the card. I feel this kind of defeats the purpose of the card. Granted I think the hologram is cool and all, but I’m not holding onto it for the artwork. I’m wanting to buy things with it, once in a while. At any rate, the replacement is scheduled to show up in a week to ten days. I bet it gets here before the router.

Then, for the grand finale (oh please tell me it was the finale), yesterday I elected to wash and dry my cell phone in the pocket of my jeans, thus necessitating the purchase of a new phone, even though I’m realizing today that I was actually eligible for a free replacement and will have to tackle all that if I want justice in the wireless world. I can’t blame that on technology though, much as I might like to. They pretty much warn you that washing and drying (on high, for thirty minutes) is not a great idea. This new one comes with all sorts of bells and whistles and I bet I never learn to use half of them. If I wasn’t feeling enough like a caveman through all this, the phone comes with an analog clock on the front, nice Roman numerals, and the twelve-year old selling me the thing pointed it out as a problem, but assured me I could switch it over to digital. Now slow down there, Youngin’, I’m not sure I cotton to your newfangled time piece there. Yes, I can speak digital, but my first language is still analog. When I look at a clock, I want to know what size pie-wedge I have to go. 11:47 doesn’t really register with me, but show me one quarter of a pizza (with just a bit trimmed off), and I know what I’ve got to work with before noon. But soon this tongue I speak will go the way of the passenger pigeon.
So. I’m considering joining the Amish, provided they let me bring deodorant, and some shorts.
All right, I use and appreciate plenty of modern conveniences; I’m a huge fan of indoor plumbing, electricity rocks, and I’m delighted to have been able to go as far afield as Seattle or Ireland without having to spend five days swallowing my weight in coal dust. Nonetheless I feel like modern life is kicking my ass, and isn’t going to stop anytime soon. Yes, I realize what the common denominator is in all this, so I’m working my Norman Vincent Peale as hard as I can, but damn.

Please don’t let me get shot into the ether.


Eric said...

Patrick: You are, indeed, Mr. Cranky Pants today.



Joe Jubinville said...

Cable debacle. There I've said it. Kinda fun.

There was a news story on TV a few days ago about an elderly woman who had a similar experience with Comcast. Finally she'd had enough... got a hammer out of her toolbox and proceeded to the Comcast office to smash whatever she could find to smash. She was arrested for disorderly conduct, and received a suspended sentence. She has a sattelite dish now.

I haven't had cable TV for years. Not since I got highspeed DSL to entertain me. I did get a new cell phone recently (did you get the 'wafer' too?) - with the analog clock on the screen. A digital rendition of an analog clock, of course.

Cooper said...

I am feeling incremental frustration and anxiety on your behalf just reading this! I think you WERE caught up in a Terry Gilliam movie! Love this ... sculquer or cole-myner or theeph or sneeque .... so Dr Seussesque! Poor darling ... oh the places you'll go.

Patrick said...

Eric, where's the love? Also, did you get the photo from the reunion? Matthew sent it to me, I can forward it to you, if you like.

Joe, I can see myself being that old woman in many settings, most recently on the subway ride home during a particularly surly rush hour. I was one of the few people on board who WASN'T cranky, and it's a good thing I didn't have a hammer. My life in NYC, it's often a good thing I don't have a hammer. I love that old woman.

Right. It's a digital representation of an analog clock. I am embarrassed I hadn't thought of that. It's real cool though. And no, I got a Samsung something or other... is the wafer fun?

Cooper, I appreciate the commiserating anxiety. I'm hoping the worst is over, but my computer keeps acting oddly. Oh, the router did show up. I'm letting the roommate install it, but it probably won't be that bad.

Hey, maybe turning all my frustrations into a Dr. Suess story would help. It's worth a try.