Tuesday, January 03, 2017


Picture a little old lady pounding out a daily blog in her back bedroom while trying to keep her cats off the keyboard.  Two open cases with her Internet provider, which is the local telephone cooperative, operating an aging telephone system.  Connection is with DSL, which is not ideal.  It is valuable because it connects 911 quickly (I have needed that service) and because it works when the electricity is off.  (The electricity is owned by a North Dakota corporation and is often “down” — sometimes literally poles and lines on the ground — because of high winds, extreme temps, and long distances that are hard to maintain.)  The phone is in a different room than the computer, which techies don’t grasp.  They only know their own familiar lives.

So I’m 78 and not “up” on current slang let along tech jargon.  I listen slowly because I have to think what is meant.  But when they become condescending and begin to explain basics with boilerplate, it’s worse.  The techies seem to be under thirty, talk really fast, don’t like to move their lips, and are from other parts of the country.  I’m learning to use email contacts with techies instead of the phone, unless it’s an immediate problem.  (It could be worse — I could be a techie trying to explain the new world to a little old lady.)

I have two on-going and evidently insoluble problems.  One is blocklist, sometimes called blacklist, which might just be a mispronunciation or might be something more ominous than “blocking.”  There are more than 800 companies that maintain blocklists, which means that people can’t call in and you can’t call out.  One doesn’t know about that status unless one uses a formal service, which providers are slow to tell you exists.  Providers want you to think that you are safe because of something they are doing directly, not that they are contracting to another business, far away.  I just now learned about whitelists, but can’t use them because I have no password, and unless I have a previous password, I can’t have a new one.

The other issue is related but not the same, and that’s the war over passwords with Google, which insinuated itself into my local internet provider so that I have to use my GooglePlus password to get onto my regular email.  (My local provider doesn’t believe this.  They say it is impossible.)  I want to cancel my account with Google but am afraid it will also cancel my 3rivers account or at least require a different 3rivers password.  So I call my local provider to find out what my password is after I’ve cancelled Gmail.  They won’t tell me.  It’s a secret because of security.  I guess they’re afraid I might send myself SPAM.  So I take a risk and cancel GooglePlus.  I haven’t had an email since, but that’s not unusual on the morning after a holiday while people are clearing their inboxes.

I’m considering asking Putin what my password might be.  Trump claims Putin will know.  (That’s a joke.  I’m finding that people can’t tell jokes from what passes for reality.  But that’s a different problem.)  

Inventing new and more complex passwords for every transaction becomes a time-consuming and imagination-challenging project.  I’ve used all my pets, teachers, favorite books, playmates, and even Blackfeet words, though that’s tricky because it’s an oral language and no one spells them the same way.  (In Canada the word for the tribe — Siksika — is translated as Blackfoot.  Up there Piegan becomes Peigan.)  I designed a form for noting passwords that I keep in a binder alongside the computer and try to keep updated.  It’s 25 websites per page and there are six pages.  I don’t do games, databases, or any other fancy stuff, but I do stream movies all evening.

I’m a writer, so I use the Internet for research, to send queries and to share writing.  My primary venue is blogger.  I do not understand the relationship between blogger and google, so I use tumblr for backup.  I once had an adventure with the spoken word for posts and might renew that.  But basically I just spend the first half of every day composing a thousand word essay to post.  Every day the same thing the same way on the same schedule regardless of holidays.

But techies want bells and whistles, and the front office wants new and exciting features that will appeal to the advertising demographic which is certainly NOT little old ladies who are easily confused when the entire starter page is reconfigured to accommodate new features, like the demand that one make one’s blog post “pretty” and appealing.  I barely figure out how to change the photo in my heading, and they invent some new thing.  Then, when I’ve become dependent on their automatic re-sizing of image feature, they drop it.  (Which is separate from the issue of which images you can use and how to certify they are legal.)

All these services appear to be short on techies and using lesser skilled people all the time, because the ones that really KNOW have moved to San Francisco and are living in someone’s closet while waiting to catch a unicorn.  (This is not a joke.  It is a figure of speech using techie jargon.)  They cannot conceive of an internet user who is not on a cell phone that will convey “texting” and who is not using a handheld device.  They also have no mental image of thin infrastructure support out on the prairies and in the mountains.  Only cities on the coasts count.  (The Lake Michigan coast counts which is lucky for Chicago.)  In tolerable weather people in Valier are often standing on their porches in order to get decent cell service, even though there’s a tower right next to the grain elevator.

But at the same time the sheer numbers of users go up and the variety of kinds and levels of sophistication go up.  The only people who really understand all this are adolescent hackers.

But my Luddite orientation is sometimes lucky.  A few years ago I began to understand how fragile the supposedly invulnerable Internet really is, partly because the original design of World Wide Web has been co-opted by major providers trying to monetize everything by gating (the stinking passwords).  Therefore, since last summer I’ve been spending hours a day downloading and converting to print on paper everything I valued.  Since I sometimes write with another person and consider some of that material invaluable — precious — it was years of chapters and discussion.  As we age, I’ll try to find a reliable archive for the materials in case I die or the house burns down, but I can only hope they won’t re-digitize everything.  The academic world is now as turbulent as all the rest of the planet.  WHAT Ivory Tower?


Anonymous said...

Your friend west of the mountains did respond to your email a bit after noon. Won't know if you got it or not, until you let me know, or 3 rivers lets me know 24 hours later. Then again 48 hours later and yet again 72 hours later. Idjits.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Message arrived at 9:47 PM. "Friend" is on my white list and supposed to automatically go through. It was not listed by my Barracuda report, which it was supposed to be.

Thanks for letting me know.

Prairie Mary

Anonymous said...

Judging from the number of returned email notices 3 rivers has puked out the last couple days, you still have a problem. Hope it's just with me.