Thinking cap time…

We’ve just “endured” – DD2’s word – a week basically cut off from the rest of the world in communications terms. The internet started “fading” in & out the weekend before last, and the landline started to cut out too on Tuesday. From Wednesday onwards there was a farcical catalogue of errors & misunderstandings as we fell completely through the network between our phone & internet provider, Talktalk, and BT, during which time we had phone & internet access for all of 20 minutes until we lost it altogether on Friday morning. At which point they had apparently rectified the fault at the exchange, but omitted to reconnect the line to our phone… Unfortunately, given the fact that my 86 year old mother, in another town, had a fall the week before and “wasn’t right” and her GP was exhibiting all the symptoms of compassion fatigue, and we have a 20 y.o. son halfway up the Andes, not to mention a small online business, this was no laughing matter. Especially not as it turns out we are  in something of a mobile phone black hole; the signal strength is pathetic nearly all the time on all networks. So investing a modest sum in a new, webworthy smartphone wasn’t really a lot of help, but at least I can wander off & find a connection or make a call when I need to now.

But it’s been a very interesting few days. I thought that if, for any reason, the Web & email “died”, much though I appreciate them, I’d just shrug & get on with everyday life. But actually, I felt as if I’d lost a limb! I didn’t know the weather forecast, apart from the very general TV forecasts.  I couldn’t find out bus times, or shop opening hours. I couldn’t compare prices, read reviews, or see if I was getting a good deal on the phone – luckily, I was. I knew there was a Diwali festival going on near us at the weekend, which I really wanted to support, but couldn’t find any details… aaaargh! I trotted off to the library to update my Facebook, so that in the unlikely event of any of the absent offspring needing to know, they’d see that we were still alive, but half an hour isn’t very long & I couldn’t get my email. I’d been halfway through negotiating a couple of online sales; I doubt they’ll go through with it now!

DD1 was completely lost for recipes. Maybe she won’t be quite so quick to insist I declutter my recipe books now… Even DH was twitching gently, unable to find out what rare avian visitors had been spotted in other parts of Dorset, access live football scores or find out if the Space Station was hurtling overhead. We couldn’t book appointments or find out whether our library had certain books, and I was completely unable to do some research for an article I was writing.

In days gone by, I’d have been able to nip to the callbox up the road to ring my mother. But they’ve taken them all away now, as we all have mobiles. Indeed we do – but we don’t necessarily have a signal, if we’re too far from major population centres. In our case, that’s about 200 yards from the city boundary… I could indeed have gone round to my longsuffering & lovely neighbours, but in a way I wanted to tough it out & see just how it affected us. And it didn’t impact on us too badly, as Mum’s OK and DS3 in Chile probably didn’t even notice we’d “gone”. But we’re all fit & able-bodied, and live within easy walking distance of shops & amenities, and it doesn’t take too much thought to work out that if you’re not, being without a means of contacting the wider world & accessing services could very quickly become a dangerous situation.

It’s been a bit of a wake-up call. No phone boxes now, and for many people, there’s no-one to notice that all’s not well; supermarket milk & newspapers means there are no bottles piling up on the doorstep or papers sticking out of the letterbox to alert the neighbours. Who may well not even know there’s someone vulnerable living next door, or realise that they can’t contact the outside world. Reporting the fault, it quickly became obvious that the system works best if the customer fills in a detailed fault report online – erm, how, exactly, without a connection? And the constant back-to-square-one lengthy mobile calls with very lovely but very baffled people on another continent, working to a script & making you jump through the same hoops time after time, are enough to make you want to just give up & go away; if I, who used to work with computers, feel like this, how frustrating & incomprehensible must it be to someone who isn’t confident with technology?

I’m still considering what steps I need to take to ensure that we’re not so caught-on-the-hop next time there’s a glitch for whatever reason. I need to use webmail more, for one thing, and give my mother a couple of neighbour’s landline numbers to try in an emergency, if she can’t get through to my mobile. Actually, I don’t like realising how dependent I’d become on all these boxes & wires, but in a sense we all are now, as that’s the way everything is organised, including the only way we can report problems with them. Overall, the lasting impression I have is that without the phone, I felt alarmingly disconnected, but without the WorldWide Web I felt downright Left Behind!

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