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From the Napa Valley Register Editor

From the Napa Valley Register Editor: An off-ramp on the Information Superhighway

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Internet in a small town is hard enough. At peak times, when everyone in town seems to be on at once, service at my Calistoga home slows to a pitiful trickle.

But over the last few months, my own phone lines seemed to be working against me. Speeds were slowing, service was dropping out unexpectedly.

“This internet is worthless,” explained my 16-year-old, who pretty much lives on the internet.

I kept calling my service provider, which kept diagnosing it as a bad router.

“That’s not going to do a damned thing,” my 16-year-old observed helpfully.

Indeed, he was right. Things just kept getting slower and less stable, despite the progressively sleeker-looking routers they sent. The internet started cutting out when the phone rang. Once in a while, it would cut out briefly when the microwave oven was on, a symptom that utterly baffled one of the techs who responded to my plea for help.

Finally this week I called and ordered them not to send me another router. Send me someone who can fix the phone lines.

After many hours of waiting, a cheerful tech showed up and fiddled with the exterior phone box for a few minutes. Then he drove away without explanation.

The internet was down. So was the phone. And my tech was gone. I was cut off from civilization.

After 30 minutes or so, I wondered if this was part of some brilliant new strategy. After all, a machine can’t be malfunctioning if it is turned off, right?

I called my service provider and they assured me that the tech was “working on it,” although they were unable to explain where he might be at the moment.

“Maybe he’s working down the street,” the operator speculated.

He wasn’t – I can see the end of the street.

As my outage continued, my agitation grew. How could I check Facebook? What if someone was sending me email? Was everything OK at work?

Of course, I still had my cell phone and it was working perfectly well, but that was beside the point. I had been kicked off my home internet.

“You could try dial-up,” my 16-year-old suggested, with a slightly sadistic twinkle in his eye.

Well, I do still have an AOL account somewhere, I thought briefly before banishing the preposterous thought.

In all, I spent about two hours in the informational Dark Ages. I felt like an addict lusting for the next hit. Sweaty, anxious, restless, fixated on the one thing I couldn’t get.

Finally, around 6 p.m., I picked up my cell phone, intending to berate the hapless operators at my service provider. As I was navigating the automated call system, however, the little green light on my router began to flicker.

I sped to my computer, delighted to see that I was back on the internet. A sweet rush of relief.

The tech showed up a few minutes later to explain that he had to trace our phone line back to a regional substation, where he was able to perform some exotic magic, which is why he had disappeared for so long.

Now the internet is back. So far at least, it hasn’t collapsed when we use the telephone or heat up leftovers. The speeds are a little better – not exactly fast, but not terrible.

The experience has, however, left me wondering. How did we ever survive a single minute in the pre-internet era? I hardly remember.

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You can reach Sean Scully at 256-2246 or sscully@napanews.com.

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Editor

Sean has been editor of the Napa Valley Register since April of 2014. His previous credits include the Press Democrat, The Weekly Calistogan, The Washington Times and Time and People magazines.

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