TERRY PRONE: Early adopters of new technology bear the brunt of system outages

This is not a complaint. Outages happen. Particularly in the wake of bad storms, outages happen. Eir puts its vans on the road after bad weather and tries to get everybody back online as soon as possible.

Everybody, that is, who was online to start with, which necessarily excludes the hundreds of thousands whose deprivation led to Denis Naughton dining for Ireland.

We’re sorry for their ongoing trouble, but the rest of us have a different problem when our server ceases to serve. It’s called withdrawal.

The worst thing about it was they couldn’t tell us. Because the server was down. Short of putting up a little plane with a message trailing behind it, they had no way to reach us, because we couldn’t get the radio on the internet or the TV or instant messages. If they put up a little plane the next time, I suggest the message should read: “It’s not you, it’s us, sorry, Eir.” Then we’ll be calmer. This time, when Eir got around to telling us what was wrong, they said it was a “domain name system outage”. Clear? No? Me, neither. Someone needs to tell Eir that being in a high-tech business doesn’t remove the human obligation — as a supplier — to be understood by customers who are not in hi-tech businesses. I just assume Eir collectively got hoose or mange or worms on Saturday and if they suffered the way we addicts suffered, that may have reduced their capacity to speak in English.

The thing about servers is, because they’re always beavering away, if they suddenly quit the beavering, the customer assumes the customer has done something wrong. Whenever my IPad or phone stop behaving, I immediately assume guilt, failure, and personal inadequacy. I figure I’m using the wrong application. Or because I didn’t update when I was told to, my technology would never play with me ever again. Or I’d put the wrong password in. Or the internet can’t climb the stairs.

Do not sneer at the stair reference. Getting broadband into a Martello tower is like trying to get a giraffe into a chihuahua’s kennel. Even if they succeed, and even if they put routers everywhere, the signal is a million times stronger downstairs than upstairs. Usually, when things go wrong, my first line of defence is to simply go downstairs.

In this instance, however, going downstairs achieved the sum total of damn all, so I rang some hi-tech friends, feeling a bit like Mark Twain when he confided to a correspondent that “I’ve sent you a long letter because I didn’t have the time to send you a short one”.

In the same way, I had to explain to people I never, ever telephone the reason I wasn’t emailing or texting them was that I couldn’t. They made clever suggestions, did my techie friends, and said to ring them back in the unlikely event their clever suggestions didn’t work. Their clever suggestions didn’t work. But techie people know they’re in the right, so when their recommendations don’t work, they assume you’re implementing their suggestions wrong and get terse with you, which means you have to get terse right back. A lot of friendships founder that way.

The last stop before friendship foundering is: “Turn off everything, unplug everything, leave it for two minutes and then start up everything again.” I did that, too. Nothing.

Now, even with my habitual willingness to take the blame, I might have got to a more sensible scepticism a bit sooner if it wasn’t for the cat flap. I bought a hi-tech catflap. (See the pattern of early adopter bad decisions beginning to emerge, here?) I bought a hi-tech catflap because Invader Cat, who is cross-eyed, splotchy, and looks like it recently lost an argument with Conor McGregor, was getting into my house, eating cat food left out for two cats, and brawling with one of them, which meant antibiotics, and transparent hoods and vet fees, because Invader Cat is a feline Typhoid Mary: a carrier of several disgusting diseases.

The new catflap required the vet to shoot an identification bead into the necks of my cats, which could then be programmed into the flap. Invader Cat, without an injected bead, would be permanently excluded. Except. Either my cats approach the catflap with their head at the wrong angle or there’s something else wrong with the thing, but the bottom line is that, at three in the morning, I get woken by this repetitive hammering from downstairs.

It can go on for five minutes, at the end of which the cat, defeated, reverses back out or triumphantly enters the house. You wouldn’t take a bet on which it might be. In the middle of failing to get on the internet and worrying about all the clients who would fire me as a result, I got mad at the literal head-banging going on downstairs. Down I went and duct-taped the bloody thing open. Thereby reminding myself that in an increasingly secular world, there is one eternal verity: Duct tape always comes through for you.

Then several techie friends rang to tell me Eir was fifth on the news bulletin because it was down. Out. Collapsed. Grand, I thought, not guilty, for once. But that meant a note needed to be hand-delivered by me, so off I lashed, only to encounter road works in Donabate where they leave one stream of traffic penned up by a red light for about a year while the other stream keeps coming interminably. Well, OK, not a year, but long enough for internet poker. If the internet was working, which it wasn’t.

Frazzled by all this, when the green light came on, I took off through the slalom of metal guideposts with such enthusiasm that I whacked two tires off a high kerb. You know the way they ask you in A&E on a scale of one to 10, how bad is your pain?

Well, on a scale of one to 10, my front tire was a nine and my back tire was an eight-and-a-half. I crawled to Newbridge House, a local tourist attraction, and pulled in, put on my flashers, and called a friend for rescue. The fact that he was one of the guys who had spent hours trying to get me access to the internet could have made him surly, but didn’t. Human duct tape, he is.

Now that we’re back online, I’m not blaming Eir for my car and cat flap problems. I’m not blaming them for deskilling me, so that I can no longer turn on a TV or find a news radio station on the windowsill radio. I’m just grateful I haven’t early-adopted myself into internet-dependent cookers and kettles and fridges and freezers, because that would have made the weekend three notches worse than the nightmare it was.

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