SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
June 22, 2014

Against My Better Everything

 

The early days of the Industrial Revolution were marked by thousands of workers losing their incomes after being replaced by more efficient and more productive machines. Whatever the hell age weíre living in now comes with its own economic ramifications. Now instead of losing our jobs, technological advances mean we will be forced to buy new crap we donít want (though weíre told repeatedly that we do), often canít afford, and that is by its shoddy nature designed to be either broken or obsolete within three years, meaning weíll have to buy even newer crap. And more and more often it seems we have less choice in the matter.

††††††††††† My god what a dull lede that is. Worse, I sound like some kind of damn commie. What it boils down to is this: However much you like that new cell phone, youíll need to replace it in a year as the new model will render the one youíre holding inoperable. I was perfectly happy with my analog TV. Never gave me a lick of trouble. Then six or seven years ago when we were told that analog televisions would simply stop working after a certain date as the whole world went digital, I was forced to by a pair of rabbit ears and a digital unscrambler in order to continue watching. It cost me $150 I didnít have, and now I only receive one channel, and poorly. I loved videotapes but was forced to switch to DVDs as VCRs were discontinued. Within the decade DVD players will be discontinued and I will be forced to watch movies on my computer screen, which I absolutely despise. Of course I could buy a digital flat screen TV with some kind of whatsits that would allow me to plug my computer into it and watch movies that way, but that too will cost more than I have to spend. But if I donít play the game and roll over, Iíll have to go without. Now, as it has always been, ďfreedom of choiceĒ is a cruel myth for dummies. We all know this is happening, what forces are responsible, and how nakedly deliberate and cynical it all is. And there doesnít seem to be a fucking thing we can do about it if we want to continue functioning in the world. Because weíre idiots.

††††††††††† I still have an analog phone on a landline and a thirteen year old computer on dial-up. I was quite happy with the setup, and it got me out of a lot of crap, allowing me to tell people honestly I couldnít watch this or that YouTube link or receive their MP3s because the computer couldnít handle it. I could work and send emails and look at a couple of simple websites and thatís all I wanted from the Machine. But no, it seems thatís no longer allowed either. Morgan, for a number of reasons, needs more and faster internet access than I do, so I reluctantly agreed to upgrade to DSL or DOA or whatever the fuck itís called. It shouldíve been simple, right? No new equipment beyond a modem, no trouble with the phone line, just make a call, they send a box and flip a switch and Iím good to go (for an extra twenty dollars a month). So I called and got things started. Then I waited.

††††††††††† A week later I was told my order had been cancelled for some foggy reason. I called the company once more, was told it was a minor problem that could be bypassed, and was promised it wouldnít happen again. A week later I was told my order had been cancelled. Again. I was also told I needed to call the phone company and have them, oh, Christ, I donít even remember anymore, but three hours later after talking to thirteen different knuckleheads from three different knuckleheaded companies (and hanging up on the twelfth one who went far beyond knuckleheadedness deep into dirt stupid territory), I was at last told clearly and simply that the copper wire phone lines in my neighborhood were being phased out and no longer carried a DSL signal. Since one large phone company owned and operated all the lines in the neighborhood, my only choice was to go with their fiber optic program which cost three times what I was presently paying. But oh me oh my is it ever fast! Now, I was promised, I could watch movies online! Oh, and also as part of the deal I had to dump the phone company whose landline had served me perfectly well without a blink for over twenty years, because landlines would soon be obsolete anyway.

††††††††††† The only problem was that all the new hoodoo and equipment I would need to make the new setup a reality might not work with an analog phone and a thirteen year old computer. If it didnít, I was shit outta luck until I bought a new computer and a new phone more in tune with the zip-whiz age in which weíre living. Until I did that, well, Iíd pretty much be cut off from the world.

††††††††††† It was tempting, Iíll tell you, but now that Morganís down here in the Bunker with me it wasnít exactly an option. So, after I laid all these issues out to the people from the corporation and (despite some wildly conflicting answers) was promised everything would be A-OK you betcha, I reluctantly told them to give it a try. Three days later the technician arrived at my door.

††††††††††† Over the next four hours he drilled and banged and clattered about, running from room to room and from the front of the building to the back in an effort to overcomplicate my life in ways that simply did not seem necessary. I was reminded of Samís efforts to get his air conditioning repaired in Terry Gilliamís Brazil. I really did not like the idea of all these electronic boxes being positioned in strategic points around my bedroom, knowing full well that like the digital unscrambler atop my television, they were merely another way to keep an eye on me. And if you think Iím paranoid when I say that youíre a FOOL.

††††††††††† When he at last called me into the back room to proudly show off his handiwork, he found much to his dismay that none of it worked. I had a dial tone on my phone now and that was something, but it seems no one could call in. The new fancyass Internet connection didnít work at all. He moved from one to the other, trying this and that, fiddling with wires and modems.

††††††††††† ďI told you every day was different,Ē he said. ďAnd I ainít never seen anything like this before.Ē

††††††††††† ďUh-huh,Ē I didnít want to tell him how relieved I was, hoping heíd just pack everything back up and go away. He didnít. He continued fiddling.

††††††††††† Eventually, after he made several phone calls to the home office, someone on the other end was finally kind enough to flip a switch and the phone started working in both directions. But the internet connection had him flummoxed. In the end he had no choice but to shrug, apologize, and go away, leaving all these new electronic towers plugged in and humming around the bedroom. (ďNever touch this one,Ē he warned me before leaving, pointing at the two-foot-tall black obelisk parked next to my dresser.)

††††††††††† Yes, welcome to the world of tomorrow.

††††††††††† Later that evening when Morgan returned home, she sat in front of the computer for a few minutes, changed a few settings, and everything began working as, I guess, it should. And by ďas it shouldĒ I mean the fancy digital phone reception is now spotty and scraggly, and all the websites that used to crash the computer (which is most of them) still crash the computer, except now things crash much faster. Not that any of this surprises me. I guess if I want things to work as claimed Iím going to have to, yes, buy a new computer and a new phone, both of which will need to be replaced in three years. Oh how I ache for the day someone finally hits the Grid.

 

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