A story only an old person could tell

The technician from AT&T arrived at nine this morning to fix some thingy in my internet hook-up. It had something to do with speed (no, not that kind). The apartment complex had AT&T install these two little white plastic boxes in everyone’s apartment about five years ago, and I thought I was hooked up. But what does a 76-year-old musician/retired professor know about hook-ups? This whole Wi-Fi thing is a “holy mystery and ought to remain such,” as my late friend Sr. Mary Charles (OHS) would have said.

First this big burly tech went looking for the cable, or (as he explained) the “fiber” from the little white plastic box by my front door to the little white plastic box down around the corner into my living room, next to the 8’x8’x8’ mechanical-action pipe organ. I rented this place because it has 8-foot ceilings.

He ran his flashlight across the crease of the plaster (the wall) and the woodwork (around the coat closet) and showed me a tiny – barely visible – white shiny line running from the first box to the second, about 10 or 12 feet apart. “What a trip!” I said, dating myself. The fiber cable, or whatever you call it. When he located the fiber, he started to work. I said he was big and burly because it was amazing that this man could reach up to that little box high on the wall and with his over-sized hands trim and manipulate this (tiny, almost invisible) line and get it ready to hook up. He snipped off the end, and I saw a tinier (almost invisible) red light blinking at the end.

“That’s the fiber,” he explained. “It’s about as big as a hair.” Dumbfounded. This holiness got more mysterious by the minute. He spent about five minutes measuring and snipping and cleaning with wood alcohol this tiny glass thing so far above his head (which was pretty far above mine) with a hair inside it. He stuck it into some kind of clip, stuck the clip into the little box and said, “There, it’s ready to go.” He got another plastic thing out of his bag. It looked like my modem, but white. He plugged it into the other little white box, fiddled around a bit, and said, “Let’s see if it works. Where’s your computer?”

We went into the other room, and he immediately disconnected the modem. “Turn it on.” I did, and the screen popped open instantly as it had never done before. “You can throw away that cord from your phone jack to your computer, and I’ll take this modem.” I looked puzzled. “Wi-Fi, you know.” Dumfounded. Do I now know what fiber optics looks like? Why didn’t I have this done when the med students living here demanded the apartment managers install high-speed internet throughout about five years ago? I don’t know.

In 1993 I received my first email. At my college on another professor’s computer. From my partner, working for Hewlett Packard, who was transferred to Dallas. Dumbfounded. My colleague was the first person at the college to be hooked up to email. I’ve been using email since. (I had bought my first computer in 1987 to write my dissertation.) 1993-2021, and I still have no idea how this mystery works.

I tell this story – which is old hat to anyone reading it – because I was dragged (not kicking and screaming) into the 20th/21st centuries having no idea what was going on. I’ve been teaching first-year college students rhetorical writing since then – without understanding much of anything about the life they take absolutely for granted. My grand-nephew was using computers when he was in kindergarten about fifteen years ago. I don’t know if he knows what an algorithm is, but I sure as heck don’t. And probably millions of old folks don’t, either.

Be kind.

(Sometime I’ll tell the story of why this happened today instead of five years ago.)

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