Working Without a Net

Thanks to further advancements in Qwest’s ongoing commitment to incompetence, I was recently without DSL service for three days. Qwest’s explanation for the disruption was, “we r dum we dont no how 2 do stuf cuz we are 2 stupd lololololol w00t!,” followed by a fart noise. And that was after I asked to speak to a supervisor.

Having no service for three days meant I had to find other means of acquiring my news, entertainment and arguments. Like the pioneers of yesteryear, I had to dig up an old dial-up account I still had access to and try to make that suffice while I hunkered down for the long, wintery weekend, which actually occurred in the summertime.

Dial-up is not an acceptable alternative for someone used to high-speed Internet, however. It feels unbearably slow. It’s like driving a lightning-fast Porsche one day, and the next day, having a really slow Internet connection. (I am not good with analogies without Web assistance.) Believing in this case that it was better to go hungry than to eat lousy, worm-infested dial-up, I quickly abandoned it and resigned myself to enduring the weekend without Internet access at all.

This was going to be problematic. Anytime I have a question, I know our friend the Internet will have the answer, quickly and very often correctly. How was I going to learn anything without access to the Web? Already my mind was teeming with trivial questions, accompanied by panic over not being able to track down the answers. What were the opening lyrics to “Parents Just Don’t Understand” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince? What is Armenia next to? Is “crystal meth” the same thing as “speed”? What was the name of that guy who was in that movie with the girl who had the thing? Television and human interaction could only distract me for so long before I would NEED to know the answers to these questions.

It’s amazing how quickly the Internet became an integral part of our lives. Just 10 years ago, if you’d read that I was to endure a weekend without “the Internet,” you’d have said, “What’s the Internet? And how am I reading this column if it doesn’t exist?” And thus a time-space paradox would have occurred, and the universe would have ceased to be. That’s how important the Internet is.

My point is, in only a decade, online communication has become as essential to our society as the telephone or profanity. Reuters reports that 75 percent of Americans above the age of 2 who live in homes with phone lines have Internet access. (Infants and hillbillies remain the two toughest demographics to reach.) In Salt Lake City, where I live, even homeless people have Internet access. The public library has computers that are for use not just by library card holders, but by ANYONE. Bums, slackers, terrorists, foreigners, anyone. It is truly a modern era when even hobos can check their e-mail and read The Onion.

The Internet has its beginnings in the 1960s, when computers were complicated, massive machines that occupied entire rooms, much like the late Marlon Brando. It wasn’t until the mid-’90s that the Net came to be used by ordinary people, but when it did, it took off like a rocket. For many Americans — and I understand it is also available to people outside America — it is their primary source of information.

I spent a good part of the weekend being peeved at Qwest, not just for the disruption in service, but for the stingy manner in which they credited my account. Qwest’s DSL is actually powered by MSN, and until recently, MSN handled the tech support and billing (though for convenience’ sake, the charge would appear on your regular Qwest phone bill, next to the standard mysterious telephone charges like “Federal Excise Tax” and “Excised Federal Taxation Tax”). During that time, when there was trouble with the service, I would call MSN and they would usually offer me a month’s free service by way of apology, even if the system was only down for a few hours. I liked that, because I like free stuff, and because I like it when businesses make convincing displays of actually caring about their customers.

Now, though, Qwest has taken over the tech support duties and brought the DSL customer service down to the same level as its telephone customer service, which is to say ain’t nobody happy anymore. The lady I spoke to in the billing department calculated that three days of no service amounted to about three dollars’ worth — but that she would GLADLY credit me a full TEN DOLLARS! She said it like she was the most charitable person ever to walk the earth, like Mother Teresa was a selfish skank who stole from crippled children compared to her, but I wasn’t falling for it: If these were still the MSN days, I’d have gotten a full $30 credit, not to mention massive, slobbering apologies! Massive, I tell you! AND SLOBBERING! And why was she even bringing Mother Teresa into it? That’s not cool.

So I was steamed about the Qwest business, and between being steamed and a few social obligations I had to attend to, the weekend pretty much flew by, albeit in a manner that felt completely disconnected from the world. My newspaper didn’t come or was stolen by a neighbor one of those days, too, so I was cut off from humanity even further.

When I rejoined society on the Internet on Tuesday, I was able to track down the answers to my nagging questions in a matter of seconds: “You know, parents are the same no matter time nor place/They don’t understand that us kids are gonna make some mistakes/So to you all the kids all across the land/There’s no need to argue, parents just don’t understand”; it’s between Turkey and Azerbjaijan, and it has a town called Zod, like the General in “Superman II”; yes; and Jeremy Piven. Life was back to normal — plus, I had a free $10 coming my way! W00t!

"W00t!" -- notice those are zeroes, not letter O's -- comes from an irritating form of teen communication practiced on the Internet known as "leet speak" (or, even better, "l33t speak"). It dates back to the bulletin board systems of the '80s, came into vogue among the kids recently, and lasted only a few months before it started being used almost exclusively in a sarcastic manner, i.e., the only people who use it now are the ones making fun of people who use it. Young people today have such short attention spans and such a rich devotion to irony, they can only think something is cool for a few minutes before they have to start mocking it. Of course, with leet speak, it was always kind of stupid, but there was no harm in thinking it was cool.

Obviously, the greatest advantage to not working at The Daily Herald anymore is that I can say "fart" in my column. In the lead, even.