the problem with modern smoke signals

'We are locked on to the wrong network," I said weakly, my eyes still glued to the error message on the computer screen.

‘We are locked on to the wrong network,” I said weakly, my eyes still glued to the error message on the computer screen.

I found this explanation for why our communication with the outside world had been cut pretty cryptic. After all, it wasn’t like we could suddenly watch the Discovery Channel or re-runs of Magnum.

“So which satellite network are we on now? If it’s any better than our internet provider, let’s stay with them,” was Sam’s pragmatic view. But since the unknown network that our satellite signal had latched on to for reasons best known to itself was withholding any and all TV entertainment as well as an internet connection, it seemed to be no better than the provider we were supposed to be on.

“Whoever they are, they don’t let me online either. Do you think one of the moose bumped against the dish?” We, or rather the satellite antenna, have had a few close calls already. With moose wandering nonchalantly right by the cabin, chicken coop and ourselves as if we were all just so many willows, it is probably just a matter of time until one feels a deep urge to lean and scratch against the nicely protruding horn of the satellite dish.

I left the computer and modem on, the latter sadly robbed of its usual cheery LED light show that indicates a happy menage à trois between it, the dish and the satellite, and went outside with Sam to look for telltale moose tracks. Nothing.

We went back inside and although Sam advised to just leave things alone and hope for one of these magical repair jobs that computerized items are prone to giving themselves, seemingly out of the blue, I could not resist clicking through the diagnostics page and its gibberish of abbreviations and decimal numbers.

“Huh,” I grunted, my brow furrowed and mouth hanging half open in incomprehension. I clicked my way back to where I had started and was rewarded with a different error message: the inside receiving unit was now being blamed for the problem, alongside with a potentially necessary antenna re-pointing by a technician.

Cold sweat began to bead my forehead, not entirely the pitiful display of internet withdrawal symptoms. The satellite internet connection is after all our one semi-reliant line of communication with the world, fielding phone calls and e-mail along with the dubious joys of websurfing; allowing me to pursue my writerly efforts and earn a living from way out in the boonies. Wonderful. Except that I had waited again right until the deadline to fire my column off into cyberspace, was waiting for a phone call from my mom about how my dad was doing in hospital and wanted to ask the vet about Milan’s recent sluggishness and hair loss.

While I berated myself for never getting around to writing and sending off an extra just-in-case column for times like this, I pondered the expense of getting a technician in to replace the modem and/or re-point the antenna. What with travel and everything, it would probably work out to roughly a fifth of my yearly income (which is rather small, but normally entirely sufficient).

Stupid internet. Chewing nervously on my nails, I railed silently at myself. Why did it always act up at crucial times and why had we never bothered to get a satellite phone?

Sam tried to calm me down. “It’s just going to fix itself, you’ll see. So far it’s always done that.”

“But it never showed us these error messages before! Maybe the modem is shot. And we can’t even get a hold of Rick because he’s out on one of his line cabins, otherwise he could relay a message for us.”

“Don’t get yourself all worked up. It’s just the phone and internet that don’t work, it’s not like we have an emergency or anything. It’s really not such a big deal.”

Reason told me he was right but it didn’t quite feel that way. Funny how we had lived at first with radio communication only, none of this high-tech baloney, and managed alright. Worrisome how, once you have more technology in your life and set yourself up to a level of dependency with it, you flop and flounder about like a new amputee when it goes on strike.

Just as I began to revive those dim memories of a happy life without a modem, those dear precious LED lights suddenly went on. “Sam, it works again!” Of course he said “I told you so,” and of course I immediately discarded all newly gained insights and procrastinated with my writing, idiotically secure in technology’s ability to fix itself. I’m such a slow learner.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.