Return to Digitalland

I’ve seen some articles where the writer signs off from the Internet for a month or so, and it usually winds up that their lives are improved, as they interact more with the Real World, family friends, people in the street, and find that The Old Ways Were Best, and everyone should log off and take a walk. It’s like Walden for the New Millennium.

I just spent a month and a half without the Internet, and I am here to say this is bullshit.

no-internet-accessI used to have broadband through my local cable company; we parted ways somewhat acrimoniously years ago, and I went to DSL – after all, I was already paying for a phone line, this made sense. That worked out fine for a while, until the landline cut out. The DSL was still functioning, but our phones were dead. The technician who came out informed me it was our phone. I told him that seemed unlikely since I had tried three separate phones with the same result. I insisted he plug his own handset into the outlet, and got the same results I had with three increasingly expensive phones. Then he said he could rewire the connecting but wouldn’t, since he’d just have to do it all over again when I replaced the siding on my house. I could not get him to tell him how he knew I would suddenly get enough money to replace the siding in the near future.

His gift of prophecy was wrong, anyway. Yet I continued on. I attempted to go back to the cable company, but that ended in tears again, as I was getting no signal to their modem and yet they thought I should pay for this. Come to think of it, that was remarkably similar to my experience with the phone company.

LIES ALL LIES

LIES ALL LIES

The sad part is, maintaining the status quo was less work so I did that, rationalizing that I was at least getting stable service from my DSL. Then that service was sold to another company, and everything went to hell. Most of my revenue stream dried up, and I couldn’t afford the non-service I was getting anymore.

So. Back to the Cable Company. I got my self-installation kit. A nice young man came out and put some sort of filter on the existing cable outside. I hooked up the Wireless Gateway™ and watched nothing happen. Then I got stiffed on an appointment three days later (I do not yell at Customer Service Reps because I like to be different. I did, however, tell him what I thought of the technician blaming me for the missed appointment). Then, a week and two days after the Self-Installation Failure, a technician showed up and fixed the problem in about an hour. Therefore, I feel all better about the company.

Also, I never had to wait more than five minutes to talk to a CSR, which is nothing short of miraculous, in my estimation.

My son, however, has better hair than this.

My son, however, has better hair than this.

In this time, I only had access to the Internet at work and on my smartphone. My teenage son probably thought he was imprisoned in a Siberian gulag. My Facebook-addicted wife thought the same. I don’t want to talk about the data overage charges on the cell phones.

Let me bore you further, as to why the Internet is more of a necessary utility to me than a luxury that can be cut out in lean times: as I said, projects I had worked on in the past had reached their conclusion, which also included the paychecks I was earning. I’m glad the economy and the job situation is good for the country currently, but I have to say the market for 59 year-old men with my particular skill set hasn’t widened appreciably. I’m still looking, and every now and then something will come across my LinkedIn desktop that ever-so-slightly sounds like me. I apply and send along my resume.

Just as the Internet drought had begun, I got an e-mail telling me I had gotten the job, and would be embarking on a two-week trial period to see if I fit in; the e-mail listed the job duties again, and what the prospective salary would be. This was all good; finally, a chance to use all these skills and knowledge, and the work seemed pretty exciting, too. The money was good enough to get me out of my current financial hole. I wrote back thanking them, but saying due to the timing, I was about to work the Independence Day weekend at my current job, and would be out-of-pocket for those three days.

I received an e-mail back that my first duty would be to book airline and hotel reservations for a casting director coming to Houston the week after, and a cashier’s check was being cut for me to cover that cost and my own expenses.

Pretty sure this is what the SOB looked like.

Pretty sure this is what the SOB looked like.

My heart sank as I read that e-mail. That was the oldest scam in the books. I had not even done a phone interview at that point, much less talked to anyone face-to-face at a supposedly local company, and they were still sending me a large check via FedEx?

This, I guess, was the Long Dark Tea Time of My Soul. I had spent several days thinking that everything was going to be all right, that things were looking up, hey, maybe there is something to this prayer business, you know? That all went away as I stared at that letter on my phone’s screen. Nothing was going to get better. And someone was actively trying to make it even worse.

My wife was spending the night at a friend’s house, who was recovering from surgery, so I had no shoulder to cry on. I had a Very Bad Half-Hour. I did send her a series of texts about how this had turned out. They probably read like a suicide note.

After the Half-Hour I allowed myself for the pity party, I started getting angry. Not only because I had been promised a better tomorrow, but because they thought I was stupid enough to fall for such a transparent ruse. I took stock – what did they know about me? What had I told them? Name, address, phone number, e-mail address – all things that can be found out fairly easily. No social security numbers or bank info, which would have been the next thing they hoped I was stupid enough to supply (I was supposed to text them a photo of the deposit slip, which I would have painted out the numbers on even if this had been legit).

No, wait, this is probably what he looked like.

No, wait, this is probably what he looked like. Or at least dressed like.

I did as much research as I could on my phone, but it was like I was blind in one eye and on crutches; things I was attempting to do were rendered extremely cumbersome. That Saturday I was going over to Rick’s to watch movies, and I brought a laptop and mooched off his wi-fi. Tracked down who had actually registered the Gmail account that was corresponding with me. Who had registered that “Under Construction” web site for what was supposed to be a long-established company. I reported my situation to LinkedIn. Never heard a thing from them.

I survived the Independence Day weekend (again). Then the FedEx package arrived, and I called the FBI.

The FBI Lady made sure I hadn’t compromised myself, then gave me a list of things to do. There is an online form for reporting stuff like this, which I did at my earliest access to Internet. I called the bank whose name was on the cashier’s check, and the lady there verified that it was a forgery, and told me they had been dealing with this particular operation for three months. No, they didn’t need the check for their files, but thank you.

I filled out the FBI form, probably supplying way too much information (I actually hit the character limit in a couple of fields). If I hadn’t been suspicious before, the fact that the return address on the FedEx envelope was from a healthcare company should have tipped me off. I fired off an e-mail to their corporate office that their account had been hacked.

No! No! This is what he looked like!

No! No! This is what he looked like!

Not everybody is a suspicious bastard like me. Not everybody read with interest about online scams in the early parts of this Digital Age. Too many people have probably fallen for this, or something like it. Did my efforts make this any more difficult for them? Probably not, but it didn’t help them.

Facing that crap without access to online tools made me feel truly alone. So I put my animosity with the cable company aside and said, this time I will make it work. Well, my part of that is pretty small, it was mainly thanks to a tech named Paul that made it work. I’m just getting used to the idea that when I see a movie clip being ballyhooed online I no longer have to say, “Yeah, I’ll have to check that out tomorrow at work.”

My time without the ‘Net wasn’t all bad – I read many books (Hey, it turns out that John Scalzi guy is actually pretty good!), but I also played a lot of solitaire. I created a busywork project that I may now never finish… because it was busywork, but at least it didn’t require net access.

My enforced absence from the Information Highway proved to me one thing, and that is I rely heavily on it for research, Whether it’s the proper spelling of concomitant or what exactly was the deal with the Dick Tracy villain “Oodles”, I grew used to having that at my fingertips (yes, I own a dictionary. Yes, shut up). The crisis with the fake job and constantly having to figure out work-arounds for the websites I manage delineated my need for access in very stark detail.

happyThis Election season may yet cause me to forsake Facebook or edit it to hell and back, but that’s another issue entirely (I am told that living in an echo chamber would be a bad thing). Not being able to be flabbergasted by my fellow humans’ idiocy on it – that’s a problem. I use Facebook and Twitter for business purposes, not simply for excuses to be pissed off.

So yes, modern-day Thoreaus, more power to you and your neo-Luddite ways. Enjoy your non-digital lives. Of course, you’ll never know that I’m wishing you well, because I’m embracing my 64-bit existence.

Now if you’ll excuse me, a buttload of movie trailers just dropped. Holy guacamole, they now play without buffering or stuttering.

It’s like witchcraft.

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