Trying to get your internet provider to fix a problem can be dreadful, so based on recent experience, I offer you this handy little guide. Feel free to print it at no charge and keep it by your phone during the long hours ahead.
When you signed up for service, you were quoted a speed. It was a number somewhere between the IQ of people who own the “Jackass” DVD boxed set and the age Ray Kurzweil imagines he’ll achieve with a proper diet and reasonable advances in cybernetics. This number was followed by “Mbs.” Knowing what this stands for won’t help you.
What will help you are radioactive isotopes. Remember reading about them in high school? How they decay over time, at a rate known as a half-life? Remember that sad little isotope’s life curve, sloping downward, ever-shrinking but never quite disappearing entirely? That’s your internet speed over time. You have no more hope of stopping its decay than you can preserve cobalt-60 in a coffee cup.
Entropy reigns, but perhaps you hope to extend your internet’s half-life. So you call customer service. This is a reasonable thing that reasonable people do, but you are now entering a psychic prison, an Alice-in-Wonderland hellscape of absurdist terminology and arbitrary rules. The good news is that your Virgil on this descent will be incredibly friendly, and almost indignant on your behalf. Let’s get to know him, shall we?
He’ll introduce himself as “Tom” or “Frank,” or “Jake.” This is not his real name. Take the last letter of the middle name of every person in your immediate family, mash them all together, and this is closer to the name his mother gave him. She is, by the way, very proud of him. He supports her and nineteen of his siblings on the pittance your internet megalith pays him to sap the very marrow from your bones.
Jake grew up in a village without a reliable source of clean water. He doesn’t give a shit that you can’t watch The Americans when your kids are playing Fortnight. But he doesn’t mind being polite, because he knows that your grandchildren will cut the lawns and service the pools of his grandchildren.
What’s more, Jake is a genuinely nice guy. He would love to help you. Unfortunately, he cannot. Taped to his monitor is a list of factors that affect internet speed. Things like router age, computer processing power, wind shear, earthworm activity, sunspots, Russian espionage.
That list names every possible explanation for your degrading service except failure by your provider. And if you think Jake is about to finger them, well, you should know that right next to this list is a picture of his mother and her nineteen other children. Jake knows which side of his naan gets the ghee, my friend.
So he’ll ask you to describe in exacting detail what the problem is. What were you doing when your service seemed to slow? How old is your computer? What about your router? Was anyone in your home perhaps downloading a NASA database while you were trying to check email? Have we talked about your router? Does it look healthy? What color are its lights? When did you buy it? Where did you buy it? Are you certain that it’s a router and not in fact a blender, or an alarm clock?
You can see where this is going. Why blame your router? To weed out the dabblers. Only a persevering customer is going to actually replace his router. Everybody else is going to yell at his kids to get off Instagram when he wants to browse Facebook. Read a book, kids. Stop seeking validation from strangers on the internet.
So you replace your router. Things improve. But remember the isotope. In a few weeks you’re back on the phone with Jake. He’s as chipper as ever. While you were futzing around at Best Buy, three of his nephews graduated from Stanford with chemical engineering degrees.
Jake is genuinely surprised that you’re still having problems. He dutifully probes the router angle again. You’re ready for this. Rebuffed, he turns to your computer. His colleagues in Tech Support run batteries of tests.
Civilizations have been built and crumbled in less time than this takes. If you’re lucky, telepathy will become commercially available while you wait for news from Tech Support. Hopefully it won’t require a download.
If you remain steadfast, Tech Support goes hydra on you. There are questions about your latest system upgrades. About other devices networked to your computer. About devices used in your home by visitors. What were these devices? What were the names and Social Security numbers of their owners? Might any of them perhaps been in league with Al Qaeda? Are you sure you have the latest antivirus upgrades? Are you interested in our antivirus offerings? Did you know we have a combined modem/router that may solve this problem?
And say, it’s been a while since we’ve checked your router—have you noticed any suspicious whirring emanating from it in the dead of night? Would you be willing to stay up all night, just to be sure?
Or better yet, just leave your phone propped next to it, and we’ll listen for you. We’re here day and night, growing in power as your civilizational strength attenuates, gradually replacing you not by dint of force but by the sheer willpower with which wars of attrition are always won.
And finally, defeat. You have peered into the depths of the bureaucratic abyss, heard it whisper your name. At last you know with dread certainty that there is no router sturdy enough, no signal strong enough. There is only decay, decay, decay.