“Do you have a Patron Saint, sweetheart?” I asked one evening.
“I don’t know,” Jock responded.
“I mean, besides Rube Goldberg.”
Though the jury is still out on that one, I secretly wonder if Jock isn’t the long-lost child of the famous inventor and cartoonist.
“Maybe St. Christopher? I travel a lot.” He paused. “Do you have a Patron Saint?” he asked somewhat skeptically.
“Ned Ludd,” I responded without missing a beat.
“He’s who the Luddites are named for,” I explained.
“Oh. Ah, yes!” Jock chuckled.
In the 1800s, with the rise of mechanized weaving in England, eliminating weaving jobs (“creating redundancy”), a group of workers, allegedly led by one Ned Ludd, retaliated by destroying weaving machines in protest. In one of his few moments of doing anything with public spirit or concern for others, Lord Byron actually made an impassioned speech in the House of Lords on behalf of the Luddites. Ned Ludd has achieved a certain amount of mythical status, not unlike Arthur and his court. He is more of a rallying symbol than a historically accurate personage. For those of us who feel challenged, oppressed and concerned about the modern age, he remains an important figure.
I try to adjust, but when I think I have a handle on life and understand the narrative, the gods throw me a quick one to make sure.
It started with a loss of internet at our house one recent Sunday afternoon.
“Well, I’m not going to get to watch the Tony Awards tonight,” I lamented. The amazing award show (way better than the Oscars, by the way) showcases current musicals carrying the flag and celebrates the legacy and history of theatrical art form. I have no idea who won an Emmy or a Golden Globe, but I can name Tony winners. We are talking people at the top of their profession, who put on a stunning night of theatre for a live television show. It is awesome! (Well, last year wasn’t; it was terrible. But once in 72 years isn’t a bad track record.)
“Why not?” Jock gave me a surprised look. I love the Tony’s and look forward to them with the passion many of my friends look forward to every March Madness.
“Because I still have two pieces due for Shea, and it looks like I’m going to have to go somewhere to write them if we don’t have internet at home and therefore no way to transmit them.”
Face it, encore is going to go to press on Monday, regardless if I have met my deadline.
Then we lost internet at the bookstore.
Your Computer Friends came out and got all the pieces in our house talking to each other again. But the misery of dealing with Spectrum at the bookstore swirled and swirled from Monday morning onward. I had a private literary tour scheduled and no way of checking my email to see if they were still coming, in spite of the impending rain. We had people checking in to the Loft above the bookstore and I couldn’t check their reservation. The list of things went on for which we depended upon the internet. I was irate and unpleasant.
“If you had a smartphone, you would still be able to do all that, even with internet trouble…” Elise floated.
“I know! That doesn’t make me any happier!” I snapped back. “Damn, damn, damn. I’m sorry, Elise. I just—you are right and I don’t like it.”
Elise, our resident millennial at the bookstore, is also leaving on August 1 to move to L.A. to pursue her dreams of scoring films—which means if she is going to teach me how to use a smartphone (gods, help me), I need to do it sooner rather than later.
“And your dog-tracking app,” Elise added.
Right. That’s actually important. I want to go traveling with Hilda, the red-headed canine, whom is my heart wandering around outside my body. After she went on an unauthorized adventure through a hole in the fence a few years ago—which resulted in her colliding with a vehicle-in-motion and having to have her back leg rebuilt—I am petrified of the possibility of losing track of her, especially away from the local area.
Dear, gods! It hurts just to think about. But if I love her, I must be prepared rather than avoid the unpleasant.
The other piece is Elise has taken all the pictures of the house-in project we have sent to the city while we work on the B&B renovation project. So, as of August 1 it would mean no pictures for the city.
“And the editor lady would really love it if I could actually, occasionally, send her a freakin’ picture to go with a column,” I conceded.
So Elise and I sailed forth and purchased a phone.
Now, activating a phone in East Africa looks like this: Pulling up to an intersection, with a card table set up, so a kid can run up to the window to get the order—say, one phone with 1,000 minutes. He goes back to the table, gets the phone and programs in the minutes. He comes back with the cost, and shows you the screen that indicates you have prepaid 1,000 minutes. You hand him money, he hands you the phone, and you drive away. The whole transaction takes less than 5 minutes.
Please, remember that the next time you try to buy a phone or update your phone plan. It does not have to be as miserable and lengthy as they make it.
Meanwhile, we still did not have internet at the bookstore. Spectrum had been out twice and kept insisting it was the router. Your Computer Friends came out to look at the router and pronounced the modem as the source of trouble. Four different people at Spectrum had four different stories about what happened and what was going on. Lots of stories. I understand stories; I sell them for a living. But, here’s the thing: A story needs a resolution—not an excuse.
It was Your Computer Friends who actually got us going again with internet. As in, they went out to Spectrum and picked up a new modem and installed it while waiting for the Spectrum guys to come back again. Low and behold: My new modem and internet worked for the first time in five days!
“Susan, really, those guys went above and beyond for us—and Gary had a smile every time I talked to him. Believe me, he had good reason not to smile,” I reported to Susan Kadar, the owner of Your Computer Friends. “I wouldn’t have smiled if I were him. But he did and he fixed it—and you have a lot to be proud of.”
I had not grasped just how dependent we were upon the internet. We couldn’t access or ship anything that sold on Etsy or for our collectibles market. We couldn’t address any of the concerns around the tour or the loft. It was a week of paralysis.
When did this happen? I think of us as a sweet, little old-school bookstore with hand-written receipts. In reality, we are completely dependent upon the modern age. It snuck up on me.
Many of us equate the rise of the internet with the 1990s—because that is when email and web browsing became common experiences in America. But the efforts to get computers to talk to each other goes back as long as there have been efforts to develop computers. My favorite underappreciated computer communications inventor is probably film star, Hedy Lamar. During WWII, she and George Antheil developed a frequency-hopping, spread-spectrum device that became the basis for our modern cellphone use and Wi-Fi. There is an incredible book that came out a few years ago, “Hedy’s Folly” by Richard Rhodes explores this aspect of her life and work.
“So have you made friends with your phone?” Jock asked. Elise and I were sitting on the stairs of the Market Street house, and she was trying to give me a tutorial.
“No, I hate it! I hate everything about it!” I responded petulantly. “Seriously, Jock, to make a call once involved flipping my phone open, hitting two buttons and hearing your voice. Now it’s four steps of misery, if it works at all.”
“Yes, but you can find a Mexican restaurant anywhere in the world,” Jock chuckled.