Back in 1998, when I bought my first computer, the way I got online was to hook it up to a telephone line. This was called a “dial-up” connection.
The problem with dial-up was it took forever to get online. When I got up in the morning, I’d hit “connect” on the computer, then go take a shower, eat breakfast, walk the dogs, do the newspaper crossword puzzle and reorganize my underwear drawer. Right about then, the computer finally would connect me to the Internet.
I can remember downloading computer programs that gave an estimate of the amount of time the download would take to complete. It was something like, “High-speed Internet – 10 minutes. Dial-up connection – 17 hours.”
“I want to get high-speed Internet!” I’d frequently whine to my husband. “One day you’ll walk into my office and find me covered in cobwebs because I had to wait so long to download a program using dial-up.”
“Dial-up is just fine,” he’d answer. “You don’t run a business or anything, so what’s your hurry? The computer eventually gets you where you want to go. Besides that, high-speed Internet is much more expensive than dial-up.”
“Well, it would be nice to wish someone a happy birthday and not have the message get there two days too late!”
He shrugged. “Then just send the birthday greeting two days earlier.”
When we moved in 2009, the first thing I decided to do was switch over to high-speed Internet. Just about every house on my road had theirs through the same cable company, so I gave the company a call. A representative was sent over to check out my property.
“Yeah, we can connect you,” the guy said. “But you’re going to have to pay for over a mile of cable. That’ll come to about $20,000 to install.”
After I nearly needed a whiff of smelling salts, I told the guy I wouldn’t pay $20,000 for a cable connection even if a group of half-naked male bodybuilders arrived to install it ($10,000 maybe, but not $20,000).
When I complained to my husband about the cable, he said, “Well, I guess you’re stuck with dial-up then. You’ll just have to learn to live with it.”
But I soon discovered there was one other option – high-speed satellite. I checked into it. The price was right and the guy guaranteed it would connect my computer to the Internet so fast, the breeze would part my hair.
The difference with the satellite hook-up was amazing. When I turned on the computer, I’d be connected in the blink of an eye. And when I downloaded a program, it was finished within minutes. I was able to do 20 times the amount of work I’d previously been able to do in the same amount of time.
Two weeks ago, I spent the day online browsing for Christmas-gift ideas. I must have “visited” 50 stores. Then I downloaded some music videos and a Christmas movie to watch.
When I turned on my computer the next day, it had slowed back down to a crawl.
“You have 35 unread emails,” the screen said.
Three hours later, all 35 finally appeared. Normally, it would have taken less than one minute.
“This can’t be happening!” I muttered. “I have high-speed Internet!” I began to suspect I was trapped in some sort of time warp that had transported me back to 1998.
I tried everything to speed up my computer. I cleaned out all of the unnecessary junk I’d stored in it. I restored the hard drive to a previous date. I had my virus-protection program scan for problems.
Still, the computer crawled. So I hooked up my other computer to the satellite connection. It was even slower than my main computer.
That left me only one other option – something I usually resort to only in a dire emergency because the mere thought of it gives me stomach cramps. I called technical support at the satellite-dish company.
“Hmmm,” the agent said as he checked my account. “I see here that you are registering a 99-percent usage on your computer. We want you to keep your usage at around 70 percent. So we have reverted you back to dial-up speed until your usage drops back down to the recommended level.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “You mean you’re punishing me for using my computer too much? But I’m a writer! I can’t waste my time sitting around for hours, waiting to get online! I have deadlines!”
“Sorry,” he said. “It’s our policy.”
“But nobody ever told me I had a limit! I’ve been with your company for four years now and this is the first time this has ever happened!”
I was pretty upset when I hung up, mainly because I knew I’d have to ration my computer usage so I could drop back down to the required 70-percent level. No more Christmas shopping online. No more downloading my favorite songs or movies. No more clicking on videos that showed things like tap-dancing dogs or people daring each other to eat a tablespoon of cinnamon (note: for those of you who aren’t aware, it’s impossible to eat a tablespoon of cinnamon because it dries up your saliva and makes you violently choke and spew out cinnamon in a manner similar to that of an active volcano).
The next night, one of the managers from the satellite-dish company called to tell me he’d decided to restore my service to high speed.
“You mean I’m not on punishment any more?” I asked.
“Just remember I’m making an exception only this one time,” he said. “Next time, you’ll have to wait it out.”
I thanked him and immediately rushed to my computer. When I got online within a few seconds, I was so excited, I nearly kissed the screen. Then I proceeded to do all of the things I hadn’t been able to do during my punishment. I ordered Christmas gifts, downloaded Christmas carols, watched a couple movies and chatted online with friends.
And now my computer is back to running slower than a sloth on tranquilizers. I’m pretty sure I’ve been put on the satellite company’s “naughty” list again.
I’m thinking that maybe if I sell my car, get a couple jobs and rent out a room in my house, I can raise the $20,000 to switch over to cable.