Of Mice and Modems

John Steinbeck wrote the wonderful story of an endearing strongman named Lennie, who had immense, uncontrollable strength in his hands along with intense affection for animals. This cruel irony cursed Lennie as he longed to care for little creatures, but he inevitably handled them to death. Lennie's tragic combo of uncontrolled finger power and love of the delicate afflicts lovers of technology too.

My client, Lance, received a kit in the mail for new Internet service. After three days of trying to install it himself, my phone rang with a highly agitated Lance on the line. He fussed about instructions he called "useless," then asked for my help. I was surprised because Lance was usually technically savvy and newer DSL installation kits are easier to install than ever.

I arrived at his office and sat at his desk. He joked, threatening physical harm to me if I fixed it in less than thirty seconds, then excused himself to make a phone call.

Alone, I looked at the opened DSL kit on the floor. The cardboard tongue on the box lid was torn off. Inside the box there were no instructions. I found them in the trash, wadded up -real tight -along with other wadded paper and a few violently-chewed toothpicks.

The DSL modem had come in a clear plastic bag. The bag had been gutted, torn along the bottom with green ink marks along the ripped edge. A piece of tape on top sealed the bag and would have provided much easier access.

I troubleshot the connection problem for 15 minutes (my self-inflicted limit before calling for help). The DSL tech on the phone walked me again through all the steps I had taken -still no luck.

"Let's hard-reset the modem," he said. "Push a paperclip into the tiny button in the back of the modem."

I flipped the modem over and saw a hollow hole with no reset button. I shook the modem and heard what sounded like a BB in a plastic cup. I tilted the modem and the light caught some green ink pecked near the reset button. That's when I saw the uncapped green pen on Lances desk. [Insert scary movie music here.]

"Uhhhh, we may have a physical problem here," I said, checking the door for Lance. The dismayed tech arranged for shipping of a new modem, saying he'd never heard of this problem.

I was writing a confirmation number down when Lance reentered. I thanked the tech, hung up and turned to Lance.

"I can't believe they would send you a defective modem with no reset button," I said, watching to see if Lance would own up.

"Really?" he said, with a crooked, guilty smile. He studied my face, trying to assess how much I knew. He knew that I knew. But to this day we haven't spoken of this. Within days, after gentler care, his new modem connected him.

It doesn't matter if it was Lance's angry frustration or accidental brutality that damaged his modem -the result was the same. Technology gadgets, like a small animals, respond best to a gentle touch.

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