When Slow Things Happen to Fast People
by Patricia Draznin

In the rural outposts of the Great Plains beyond the reach of DSL in a low-tech galaxy far far away, you can find me grafted to my computer downloading web pages in as little as 43 minutes, as long as there aren’t too many graphics. I have been trying forever to upgrade my dialup connection to DSL, Wireless, Cable, UPS, Bicycle Messenger—anything to improve my current speed that rivals a homing pigeon on crutches.

I have Bandwidth Envy. Way out here, a whole three miles past the town limits, where we have little oxygen or other urban frills, those tiny high-speed Information Highway molecules shrivel in our sparse atmosphere and choke in the tumbleweed. I’m grateful just to be able to make a phone call now and then through Mavis, our kindly town switchboard operator. And I’m thankful in winter for those newfangled butane lighters so I can defrost the latch on our outhouse door.

All I want is to keep pace with the rest of the world that’s running at 37 gazillion overbytes per second. But instead I am stalled in the Information Driveway, where I spend my days performing “automated” tasks in several hours that used to take me ten minutes. Such as shopping online.

Recently I ordered a CD from a web site that will remain nameless but rhymes with Mamazon. Their email confirmed that my September 12 order would be shipped on November 15. I hit reply to ask if they had made a mistake and really meant September 15. Hours later came an automated email reminding me that their previous email was also automated so (nyaa-nyaa-nya-nyaa-nyaa) they don’t write back. They directed me to their online Customer Service where I expected to find a phone number that would allow me to discuss my problem with a compassionate computer. But all I found was a list of links that did not include Disgruntled Customers on the Verge of Becoming Dangerous.

Proceeding at the speed of Morse Code, I determined to click my way to a phone number by nightfall where I could whine in depth about my purchase of a single CD. I clicked on every link including Help, SOS and Total Despair. Finally, many sub-links later and wishing I’d been leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, I found the two most beautiful words on the World Wide Web: Contact Us. Wringing the tears of joy from my mouse pad, I opened the link to find myself in a scene from Blair Witch Wired—back at the list of Customer Service links where I started. At least I don’t have to shop for groceries online.

These days I belong to a Slow-Tech Support Group that meets offline, sharing hard luck stories about the lagging pace of life. Last week our Amish group leader was recalling the good old days of manual shopping when he drove his buggy to the store and returned home with his purchases that same afternoon. As for me, I have to believe that someday my broadband ship will come in so I can stop sending smoke signals. I also look forward to hearing some good music on November 15.

Copyright 2004 Patricia Draznin


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