Making Your Home Work

And Pining for a Simpler Time…

When we moved into our four-story town house in Georgetown in 1960, we installed a then state-of-the-art communications system to enable telephone and intercom throughout the house.  

It worked beautifully for years. Then the world changed.  

Ma Bell broke itself up into smaller businesses that would themselves largely vanish.  Fax machines came (and then went). The Internet gave us email. Cell phones – blending the Internet and telephony in a single, handheld device! — was the death knell for plain old telephone service delivered over copper lines.  

Through it all, our own setup changed largely through the acquisition of additional equipment – a router replaced our dial-up modem somewhere along the way, but the telephonic underpinnings remained the same. 

Until the world forced us further into the 21st Century! Horrors! 

We decided to replace our now completely obsolete internal communications system with a totally simple, basic phone system with one wrinkle: an add-on display that uses voice recognition to write out what the person on the other end is saying, in close to real time, a real aid to people experiencing hearing issues!  MY WIFE for instance. Despite its technological underpinnings, all we needed was an electrical outlet and a simple old-fashioned phone jack! 

And there begins a saga of immense proportions. 

The existing jacks, which served us for so many years, do not work for this purpose – as if the house KNOWS we are not plugging in a rotary phone and is determined to stop us! We had three – yes, 3— “experts,” with some 50+ years of cumulative experience, each spending two hours at our house before giving up! 

As I write this, I am waiting for the fourth expert – who they swear really is the expert! (It turns out she WAS!!) 

An explanation of the trouble is hard to come by. I am told all the pieces are there, but the technicians are somehow not able to reassemble them to make a simple phone jack deliver a common dial tone. 

We seem to be at a place technologically where simplicity has been overwhelmed by accumulated complexity.  

Individually, we sweat and strain to accomplish things that should be simple. My quest for a dial tone involved four service “windows” — eight hours at which I HAD to be available, and during which the technician could appear at any time – or in one case, not at all. That is not even counting the struggle to GET a service call – automated systems insisted on diagnosing and troubleshooting devices that were working fine and wouldn’t let me request a service call until I undertook this pointless exercise!  

They seem to be in a world of their own and if the problem they are faced with does not fit comfortably into what they know and have experienced, it is as if they were on the moon for the first time ALONE! 

None in the series of technicians who visited our house turned in reports or debriefed their successors.  Each new visitor replicated their predecessors’ steps, to the same frustrating end. 

Until, with our fourth service call, we were visited by a woman willing to look beyond the blinders placed on her by her employer. She spent much of the day here, determined to solve the problem. And, in the end, she was successful! I am pleased to report that after dozens of hours of labor (mine and theirs), untold travel miles, and likely thousands of dollars of costs incurred (not by me!), I finally again have … a telephone jack with a dial tone. 

Perhaps the monopoly powers of the businesses that inherited Ma Bell’s legacy are so rich that the time and money wasted on problems like this does not come to the attention of the managers who should be concerned with SOLVING customer problems and saving their business needless expense (in that order!). 

The dial tone, it turns out, puts you into the system. And when you are in the system, you are in heaven, with everything it has in store for you.  

I have had a peek, and I recommend it! WOW. 


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