Earlier this week, I came home to find that the cable line that leads to my house (and carries within it the precious internet and cable TV signals) had broken. It was draped across trees like toilet paper at Halloween, its ends resting in my yard. I did not panic. Instead, I called my cable provider and was funneled to its automated tech support. I tried to remain calm, but before it was over, I was yelling at Ms. Robotron and feeling my blood pressure escalate to dangerous levels. A troubleshooting program is pretty much hopeless when the cable line itself has come down. No, checking the television's power cord would not help. The line was in a little puddle in the grass. Yes, all the channels on my television were snowy. The line was hanging, impotent, in the trees. No, I do not think that the batteries in my remote control need changing. Neighbors are walking over the remains of the cable line as they go about their daily business. And no, the VCR is not on. Who calls the cable technical assistance line before they check to make sure the VCR is off or the TV is on the right channel? I'd donate an organ to avoid calling a customer service line, so I'd surely check my VCR.
This entire exchange (and the five that followed before someone finally, three days later, came and fixed the line) was most frustrating because as I became more and more frustrated, Ms. Robotron remained calm and stable. When I demanded, loudly, to speak to an operator, she said in measured tones, "I understand you'd like to talk to an agent, but let's check one more thing." When I'd hang up and call back, trying to find a way around the automated system, she picked right back up where we left off, not at all insulted, by saying, "It looks like you've called before. Would you like to continue troubleshooting?" (By the way, screaming NO! did not get me anywhere at all. Turns out you have to demand an operator three times in quick succession before you'll be transferred.) I stormed around cursing the loss of personal interaction that came hand in hand with the computer age.
And then I hung up the phone and listened. My house was so quiet. It was as if the water in the pipes and the air in the vents and the very blood in my brain had stopped moving. There wasn't, actually, noticeably less noise than is usual in my home. I often have the television on, but not always. But being plugged into the internet means there's a constant stream of chatter in my daily life. I regularly post to an internet forum. I spend an inordinate amount of time e-mailing friends, students, advisors. I had no idea, until it was gone, just how much mental noise that provides. I had no idea how much I like that response to my thoughts, ideas, aggravations. I appreciate that the voices rise to meet mine in response. I even enjoy the occasional internet forum kerfuffle. It keeps me on my toes.
The silence is nice, as well. I've lived in places completely off of the grid, where you can hear your own breath echo. I'd choose that again, just like I've chosen this. But having made the choice to live in the world of people and television and internet signals, it felt like an amputation to have it all go silent and leave me twitching and looking hopelessly at my inbox. I wouldn't have said that I love the sound of the internet before, but now I know it has one and I do love it. I love the people and conversation the computer age has ushered into the walls of this house, originally erected to hold in people and the voices from throats and now vibrating from floor to ceiling with the voices of keyboards.