Don’t You Get It? The Place Is Falling Apart

By | September 4, 2021 | 0 Comments

We live in a hilly area of Los Angeles, and except for a corner of the back yard, there is very weak cell-phone reception. ATT is unable to provide reliable DSL or phone service, and Verizon is unable to provide reliable cell-phone service. So much for the “information economy” in our second-largest city.

But that’s when things are going well. One morning, our land-line phones went dead ‒ no dial tone. Eventually we were told that a water main burst, damaging an ATT cable. This is no surprise. Water mains burst frequently, because Los Angeles has no program to replace old pipes, but acts only when one bursts.

Later we were told that new cable was laid, but before splicing could begin, the cable was damaged in a second place. Perhaps this was done by a construction worker with a backhoe. Many construction workers here speak little or no English ‒ perhaps he misunderstood his instructions.

Breaking news: In order to have an “information economy,” first you need to be able to communicate information. You need to understand a common language, and you need a means to communicate.

We continued to call ATT every few days, sometimes even succeeding in getting through the menu and actually speaking to a human being. Each time, we were told either (1) nothing, or (2) that repairs would take an unknown amount of time. Our landline phones had been out for almost three weeks. Finally service was restored.

I got a cell-phone booster from Amazon for $399. After some experimentation, we now get two bars instead of one in most parts of our house. The sound is clearer, but calls are still dropped. In an emergency, we may be able to reach 911.

And even then, there might be a problem. Land-line phones go to the Los Angeles 911 center, where the callers’ names and addresses are automatically displayed. But cell-phone 911 calls go to the Highway Patrol, where response can be much slower.

A neighbor on our block has cell-phone service that is even spottier than ours. Her husband works out of town for weeks at a time. Their alarm system is tied to the land-line phones, which were out. In short, she was alone in a house with virtually no way to summon help ‒ except to run out in the street and start screaming. And you call this a First World nation?

Finally we gave up on ATT and called Spectrum, formerly Time-Warner Cable. A technician arrived in a few days, told us we need the construction team to come up and install the cable. Concerned that this would really happen, we went to the Spectrum store, where a sales associate accessed the computer file. I saw it myself ‒ construction was indeed scheduled.

The day arrived. My wife called three times, each time reaching a different human being who reassured her that the team was indeed on the way. But no one arrived. The next day we called again, and were told that no visit was scheduled. The crew arrived the next day.

Another way of diffusing responsibility is to hire subcontractors for cable construction and phone installation: No, we didn’t do it, a subcontractor did it. Perhaps this is what happens when companies are organized not by business people, who know how to do things, but by lawyers and MBAs, who know how to evade responsibility.

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. − Peter Drucker, economist and author

So there we were, in the middle of our second most populous city, with no land-line phone for 19 days, only a vague hope for a cable connection, and spotty cell-phone service that might succeed in reaching 911. First World nation? Really?

If you want to have an “information economy,” it doesn’t take an Einstein to know that first you must have reliable information, and then you must be able to communicate it. Smoke signals or yelling loudly just don’t qualify.

All the self-driving Teslas we can produce won’t change one iota of this, if the roads crumble with pot holes, and the power grid is unreliable.

All the iPhones China can turn out won’t help a bit, if we don’t build more cell towers, and service becomes even spottier.

All the clever electronic devices we can invent won’t do a thing, if we rely on poorly educated young people with limited English and math skills to run them.

All the high-tech wizardry won’t help if it’s executed badly. Microsoft promised that Windows 10 would be the last version, and would be updated as needed. Of course, Windows 11 just came out, but it is crashing Start, Taskbar, and Explorer – perhaps because of an ad that was included. The money guys outvote the techies every time.

A Third World nation with high-tech gizmos is still a Third World nation, if the gizmos work intermittently at best. A nation that cannot provide reliable phone service in the middle of its second-largest city is already well on its way to being Third World. A nation that leaves 85 billion dollars-worth of high-tech weapons in the hands of its enemies doesn’t deserve to have high-tech weapons in first place. It deserves to wallow in low-tech poverty, occasionally amused by a high-tech toy.

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