I Was an Inmate in a Technological Prison

Columnist Len Bourland
Columnist Len Bourland

I’ve just been released from jail and I’m still in a grumpy mood.

Today I was a prisoner of technology. It has taken all day to get “sprung” from various hostage crises, and I still have to report to my “probation” officer, Ma Bell. I picked up my landline to make a doctor’s appointment while multitasking and surfing emails on my cell phone. No dial tone. I had just cleared about ten robo-calls from my answering machine the night before, so I wondered if this port-a-phone was just not charged. All other phones in the house were also dead. When I called my home on my cell, it just rang and rang.

I could feel my blood pressure rise as I had zero time for this; I was trying to dash out the door to meet the tech guy at my office to figure out why important documents were being marked as junk or going to my spam filter, which I didn’t know until a title company person called me to ask if I had received them. Time was of the essence so I allotted the AT&T repair call five minutes of my time. The AT&T gods began to laugh.

I got the customer service number online (not easy — they don’t want you to find it) and tapped my toe while going through the voice menu with the annoyingly soothing voice that sounds like Hal the Computer in “2001 A Space Odyssey.” Finally, I got an agent and hurriedly asked her to schedule a tech guy to come fix the issue. This woman wanted to run some tests and have my three-digit number following my phone number on the bill. I didn’t know it and didn’t have a bill since I pay online, so she refused to help me as she couldn’t “identify” me. While she was going through her speech, I was trying to boot up my bank account to see if the number was on my online banking bill, but my log in was frozen. It was asking for a password reset. I needed to get a bank tech support guy, too, but later.

Meanwhile, Miss AT&T offered to call my phone to identify me if I answered. “The line is DEAD!” I seethed through gritted teeth. “Not according to my test,” she countered. I asked for a supervisor. She got angry and refused and began a lecture on her job duties. I clicked off my cell and stormed to the office before I missed my crucial slot with the computer guy. An hour later, after watching a man who speaks computers go into my laptop and do some mumbo-jumbo with system preferences, etc., my messages were “released.” I had zero comprehension of what he did and didn’t care any more than I care how my engine works if my car needs repair. Mechanical, I’m not.

Back to personal problems. I got my bank login fixed with a tech person and, voila, no three-digit number on my online banking bill. It was Round 2 with the phone problem. I redialed the AT&T menu and this time tried the fix-it-yourself option (easy three steps) according to the cloying voice. After teetering on my kitchen stool with a flathead screwdriver opening my gray box and testing a phone to no avail, I went for Round 3. I’d spent at least an hour trying to report my phone outage. This time I tried a different option and got a very nice man who asked for no ID and took my request for a technician without any rigmarole. Why couldn’t this guy have picked up this morning? “He’ll be by sometime between 8 and 5 late next week. We’re backed up due to the rains,” this very mellow, polite man told me.

This got me thinking … a week with no landline. Do I even need a landline? My adult kids don’t have one. They just use their cells. I don’t fax anything anymore. All the phone messages on my machine are from politicians or CVS with a reminder to pick up prescriptions. I give me cell number to anybody I want to talk to. I mainly use my home phone for directories, and to call my cell phone when I can’t find it in the house. My iPad can ping it now if I lose it. Why do I hang on to a number that’s been in my life for 25 years? Inertia? Because I’ve always had one? It would be one less bill to pay. Hmmm.

I felt strangely liberated knowing I could get out of this jail whenever I want. So I did what happy girls do. I went shopping. Anybody checked out the new Trader Joe’s?

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Len Bourland

The views expressed by columnist Len Bourland are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of People Newspapers. Email Len at [email protected].

5 thoughts on “I Was an Inmate in a Technological Prison

  • June 27, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    I too have been debating whether or not to let my land line go. I haven’t been able to yet. Here are my reasons for keeping a landline:
    1. The quality of the sound is typically so much better and it doesn’t drop calls or have static.
    2. I give this number out to all of the people who need my number that I don’t want to talk to. I just don’t want a bunch of random calls on my cell.
    3. The alarm system is tied to a land line.
    4. DSL id tied to a land line.
    There may be more but these come to mind. It seems silly paying 2 bills but the phones serve different purposes, so for now at least I am keeping them both.

  • June 27, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    what about calling 911 ?

  • June 28, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    As a 9-1-1 Operator, let me caution those of you who only use cell phones. Always know where you are, because not all of the technology is as “accurate” as salespeople would lead you to believe. Yes, most phones these days are what is called “wireless Phase 2”, which transmits the X and Y (longitude and latitude) coordinates to the nearest PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point), and that can give us a fairly accurate location of where the phone is located; but let me point out that the equipment at many PSAPs doesn’t plot that location automatically on a map for the dispatcher or call-taker to see, especially if the call happens to be coming from outside that PSAP’s jurisdiction. Have you ever dialed 9-1-1 from inside Highland Park and gotten Dallas 9-1-1? Or vice-versa? It happens frequently because your cell signal looks for the first available tower and if it is busy, the signal is allocated to another tower that might not get you the jurisdiction you’re in. If you call from a landline whether it be a home, business, or pay phone, that phone is (for lack of a better term) programmed by the phone company to go directly to the PSAP that covers that address. Basically what I’m trying to say is don’t rely solely on the technology in your hand to let us know where you are…stay on the phone with us, answer all of our questions even though I know sometimes they may not seem to be relevant, and don’t hang up until we tell you to…it will give us the best chance to get you the help you need.

  • June 30, 2014 at 11:44 am

    The newer alarms systems have built-in cell phones because so many people don’t have landlines anymore. Also, if you don’t want to give our your cell number, then get a google voice number and use that.


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