Modern Catastrophes

By on February 20, 2012

The Pilgrims did not have to worry about visa problems. The first Continental Congress did not fret about their hotel key-cards malfunctioning. Franklin never wrote about electricity bills. Americans in the Civil War at least did not have to deal with OPEC and gasoline prices. Women during the Cleveland Administrations did not have to deal with weight watcher points. Woodrow Wilson did not seem concerned about nuclear power plant leaks. Ronald Reagan did not worry about airport security checks and electronic body scans.

A really bad day some years ago

Each new technologic advance brings with it new worries. No wonder the poet W H Auden termed mid-20th Century The Age of Anxiety. We are a society dependent on technology and support systems beyond our control. If the heat went off in 1776, you went out and got more wood and added it to the fire. If the heat goes off today you either check the oil burner or see if the electricity is working or make sure the thermostat is set right. If that doesn’t do it, you call out for help. Whale oil lit the lamps of Philadelphia in the 18th Century. Now you have to go out and buy one of those twisty white squiggly tubular energy-saving bulbs and hope it produces enough light to read the small print on the packaging.


Over the week-end, I got a first hand reminder of a new dependence when my internet service went out. It took me some time to determine whether the problem was internal or external. The overall functioning slowed and then stuck. I could go nowhere. I followed several computer prompts without success. I rebooted this and reformatted that. So the problem was not mine. Well it was, but I could not fix it.

I called the company providing my internet service and got the message, “There is an outage.” No, they could not tell me when it would be restored. “Try again in two to four hours.” They were unfailing polite and apologetic. I called back in four hours, more of same. Yes, the problem covered a large area. More people had been called in. The service rep described an internal group that meant nothing to me to reinforce how seriously this outage was being treated by the company. I  was invited to call back.

The unkindest cut of all

I thought of all the things I could do to kill time. Many of them however required me to look at something on the internet. One that did not was raiding the refrigerator. I made myself a sandwich. I threw out an old salad. I went for a walk. I shuffled through the bills that came through the beleaguered post office. I went out and bought something. I went for another walk.

Still no service. Another polite phone call. The possibility that this might last 72 hours was dropped casually. The new rep was just as unfailingly polite and patient as the rest. The TV worked. I watched a dreadful show about people in a maximum security prison and then several minutes of Gone With The Wind which loses a lot seen at home. I went to bed.

The next morning was no better. Another walk. Cleaning out the hall closet. Why had we held on to all this junk? Phone calls long-delayed were made. I looked through the movie listings. Nothing tempted me. Another walk. I took out a book. I could not keep my mind on it. Back to the computer. Nothing. Another call. More empathy.

I was restless, up and pacing. Counting marks on the ceiling in my office room. Some pretty small. Was that a squashed bug? Another overnight and then this morning yet another phone call. A new polite voice. What outage was I talking about? There was nothing on his computer screen about an outage in my area. Well, if there had been an outage yesterday, it would not have been recorded for posterity. All said in a very caring tone. “We are here to help. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Then I was centrally reset and I was back. Writing. About this.

Somerset Maugham never had to worry about his internet connection. Neither did Jane Austen. Or even the prolific Erle Stanley Gardner. Of course, you had to wait years to read what they wrote. Page to publication was much longer in those days. Journalist H. L. Mencken did not have internet connection problems. Typewriter ribbon issues, of course. You can always go buy a new one.

Nor did Erma Bombeck worry about her computer connection. Or Walter Lippmann. Or the urbane Russell Baker who worried about nothing. Of course you had to get up off your derriere and go out and buy a paper to read what was on their minds. And let’s face it, those papers would hardly have carried me scribbling away about my internet service or anything else for that matter. So,…

Erle Stanley Gardner Not Worrying

As I said, it is an Age of Anxiety. And Humility.

Glad to be back in service.

Tom Godfrey

About Tom Godfrey

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