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No Cable, No Cry

Mar 12, 2015
Ideas
Joel Stein writes a weekly column for TIME magazine. His book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest For Masculinity, changes people’s lives.

I am constantly looking for new ways to insult people. Not to be mean, but to make myself feel superior. My newest target is "digital hoarders."

These people are wasting hours editing their online photos, organizing their MP3s, scrolling through old emails, sifting through shows on their DVRs and struggling with which of my columns to save on their hard drive to reread a fourth time. Some even hire organizers to do it, in which "some" is moms in New York City and L.A. I, meanwhile, have rid myself of all digital possessions. My phone and computer are a Zen retreat, assuming there are Zen retreats where you meditate by watching porn and Googling yourself a lot.

I use the cloud as my library, taking out songs on Spotify and podcasts on Stitcher. Thanks to the improvements of search and the cheapness of server storage, I can navigate thousands of piled-up emails and photos I am unaware are even there. But my greatest digital cleanse occurred three weeks ago, when I got rid of cable TV.

Which I didn't plan on. In fact, I called Time Warner Cable two months before I moved in order to transfer my service. Let me explain that in general, I get along great with most companies. Sure, there are a few I hate: whoever makes Ku Klux Klan hoods; Hobby Lobby for refusing to pay for some types of birth control for their scrapbook-loving employees, who are exactly the kind of women who want to have anonymous one-night stands with me; Chick-fil-A for making delicious sandwiches at a busy corner in West Hollywood where a gay friend is most likely to catch me; and some tech company named Superfish, though no matter how many articles I read about it, I have no idea what it does.

But I really, really, really hate Time Warner Cable. They have a very conservative customer-service system whose main purpose is to try to prevent you from changing anything in your life. They freaked out about my moving houses more than my 5-year-old son did. They transferred me eight different times, sometimes to departments I'd already spoken with, each time making me repeat my name, address and account number before telling me their department couldn't help me. This is when I thought of a brilliant Internet startup idea of letting me hire a person in India by the hour to talk to my cable company's customer-service representative in India.

Three days later, my cell phone rang, and when I picked it up, I was on Time Warner Cable's hold music. It was the most aggressive thing ever done to me on the telephone, and I have both received an obscene phone call from a man soliciting sex and negotiated with Hollywood publicists.

That's when I decided to cut the cord, getting rid of cable and keeping my Internet service. In return, Time Warner Cable demanded that I return my crappy, three-year-old DVR but was not willing to have a technician who was already coming to my house pick it up. Also, I couldn't mail it. I had to drive 30 minutes to a Time Warner Cable store, where I signed in at the front and waited to be called, because people who work at Time Warner Cable stores are as important as doctors.

By the time the Time Warner technician failed to show up at my house and then blamed me for canceling the appointment (even though I never canceled it in the first place), I'd had enough. I ordered Internet and phone service from AT&T. But before I called Time Warner to officially break up with them, I did some practice role-playing, like the CIA does with terrorists. So during the call, as soon as the operator asked why I was canceling my service, I announced, "I am moving to a tent." She asked if I wanted my phone number transferred by AT&T to that tent. I did. When she started to tell me about a great deal she could score me, I cut her off with: "I have no trust in you, so anything you offer is irrelevant," which, admittedly, is something I've had in the chamber for 20 years, thanks to an old girlfriend. If she continued, I was prepared to yell, "I am so incredibly wealthy that your savings mean absolutely nothing to me."

Eventually she told me that the appointment I canceled (that I did not cancel) was not rescheduled and was unresolved, so she couldn't cancel my service and needed to transfer me to another department. I had not prepared for this. I yelled, "I officially declare that I am not a customer anymore and you have to finish it" and hung up. I am still getting Time Warner Cable bills.

What I didn't expect after all of this was that my TV-watching experience as a cord cutter is not only cheaper but better. My Roku simply finds whatever show I want to watch on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu or a bunch of other services I've never heard of that are run by six 25-year-olds in Palo Alto. I can watch anything, anytime, and best of all, none of it is mine. Sure, I'm the only person in the world who paid $2 to see the final episode of Two and a Half Men, but at least that $2 went to Warner Bros. and not Time Warner Cable. It's a start.


Ideas
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