When I was a kid, our family had this old Zenith television that got glitchy on occasion. It would sometimes roll the picture or show nothing but black and white snow, and it had a knack for doing this right in the middle of The Incredible Hulk or Dallas, just when things got exciting.
Having already fiddled with various cables trailing from the TV, one day my dad simply made a fist and pounded it once right on top. The screen stopped rolling and went back to its regularly scheduled programming.
With wide eyes, my brother and I assumed this was some kind of grown-up dark magic. Dad had literally beaten the TV into submission. He strutted back to his recliner as if this had been his plan all along.
But it didn’t cure the problem permanently. A few days later, the temperamental Zenith was back to its old tricks, but from then on, we’d simply cross the room and smack it once or twice on its square head until it came around to our way of thinking.
Today I remembered that old television and wished I could give our glitchy Wi-Fi a whack or two. It has been unruly and unreliable for almost a week now – just long enough to remind us how utterly dependent on it we are.
To be honest, I wouldn’t even know which piece of equipment to start smacking. There’s a cabinet full of winking, blinking devices that Tom tells me are the Internet router and a modem. But if I had to identify which was which in a police line-up, I couldn’t do it. I just know they hum a little and have far too many cords attached to them. But they somehow make it possible for the Internet to flow freely into our home.
And we need this flow because it makes our television work. It makes it possible for me to email this column to my editors at the newspaper. It allows me to tell the Amazon Alexa device in our kitchen to put butter on the shopping list.
But for the past week when I’ve called Alexa’s name, she said nothing. She’s been giving me the silent treatment – the Internet’s version of the cold shoulder. We don’t have to worry about the robots taking over because they’re apparently on strike. We’ve already run out of butter, and we’re nearly out of patience, too.
After several days’ of on-again, off-again Wi-Fi, things went too far. On Saturday, we planned on watching a college football game on TV. (We like to record games so we can fast-forward through commercials and halftime.) But when we settled on the sofa later that night, there was no game. Our Wi-Fi stream had slowed to a trickle, so the game hadn’t recorded. And we knew there was zero chance of not hearing who won the game since it was against one of our team’s biggest rivals.
Tom called our Internet provider to tell them they had to send a repair person pronto. I’m sure he sounded like a man who’d just missed seeing the biggest game of the season. They agreed to send someone Monday.
We spent Monday looking out the window every few minutes like kids hoping for a glimpse of Santa’s magical sleigh. With only 30 minutes left in the two-hour time slot they promised us, a truck finally pulled up out front. A guy who was definitely not Santa came inside and asked us a few questions and then said something that, to my ear, sounded like this: “Mumbo jumbo download bippity boppity upload speed blah blah blah connection.”
I solemnly nodded my head as if I understood. (I did not.) Then I asked, “So can you get it working?” And he said “no” followed by a string of other nonsensical tech words that might have been Portuguese because that’s how much I understood it.
He did assure us, however, that we’re not the only ones in this predicament and that the “planned outage” has impacted our entire neighborhood. I guess he thought we’d feel better knowing our digital misery has company.
So now here we are in a house with weak to non-existent Wi-Fi and two work-from-home jobs. There are also two teenagers in the house after school who think Wi-Fi is as essential as oxygen. They get disoriented and jittery without it.
I’ve told them the repairman said things should be back up and running sometime tonight. I hope he’s right. Because if not, I know one thing for sure: Someone or something is gonna get hit.