Missed my regular post date a couple weeks ago. It’s been a crappy July so far. Long story short – I’m recovering from a non-Covid illness that floored me as much as Covid likely would. Just getting on my feet again. After close to three weeks.
And to top it off, the Internet provider I use had a massive country-wide outage recently that took everything down. Lasted only a day, but you realize exactly how dependent you are on them and on it when it is not there. That’s today’s piece: why are we so dependent?
The Internet was never meant to be a communication highway for the masses. Its precursor first appeared in the 1960’s, when the US Department of Defense invented a way of sending packets of information electronically between sites. This expanded into a network for scientists and researchers to share data and documents. These protocol developments coincided with hardware advances that allowed signals to be sent and received much more quickly than ever before, and across longer distances. The advances continued, leading to what we now have today.
I was surprised to learn that no one body oversees the Internet as we know it. Agencies and functions cooperate to assign and manage domain names, establish new protocols for communication and security and to provide standardized ways for people like me and big businesses like WordPress (who hosts this website) to release information to the world.
Setting up any kind of network, including the tiny one in my studio, takes resources, money and time. I can’t imagine the effort required to set one up across an entire country or across the world. And each year, we get new announcements of the latest “G” network, now up to 5G in my area. Each one needs new investment. My neighbourhood recently hosted weeks of trucks with special cable drilling machines that pulled a whole new universe of fibre-optic cable through our front lawns. Strangely, my reaction was to feel sorry for the trees that were being so rudely disturbed and possibly damaged for good by the action. The consumer end of that new cable is curled up in a ball at the side of my house. I don’t expect to be using it or needing it any time soon.
I’ve watched with fascination as these new technologies come to life. There would have been a time in my life when I was front and centre to adopt them, not being satisfied with the speed or quality of the services I currently had. That is no longer the case. We now seem to build bigger, faster, further for no real reason at all – just because we can. Maybe I’m just too old now, but multiple gigabit ethernet is not something I need or want. As long as my current services are easy to use and don’t keep me waiting, I am fully content to stop my race to progress here. I really must be getting old.
And yet, the title of this piece is “You Are Offline”. Although I don’t need more capability, I do need what I have, having settled into the perfect amount of technology at my fingertips. At last count, I have 22 devices connected to my home network, which to many of you will sound outrageous. These devices are a computer, a tablet, a cellphone, a variety of network controlled light switches, a variety of security devices, 2 printers, television (which runs over internet), network storage (which can connect to the Internet), and home and office phones (which also run over internet).
All of this was offline this past week. All of it.
The worst of it was not being able to connect with those expecting some information from me. I almost drove to those 3 locations, but I kept thinking anytime now things will be up again. Not so. Instead, I heard from a neighbour that the local public library had Internet. I drove there, stood in the foyer with dozens of others, got my fix, got my messages out, and left.
The rest of it was simply annoying, and opened my eyes to my dependency. I typically play music in the background while I work indoors – played through Apple Music – on the Internet. I typically listen to podcasts while I putter in the garden – played through Apple Podcasts – on the Internet. I check news and financials and photography sources regularly – on the Internet. I search YouTube or other sources for how-to’s on tasks around the house. And I plan my day around weather and using Google Maps – on the Internet – to decide where to find interesting places to photograph.
In the middle of the day, bored silly, I suddenly realized that I had another option. Books to read and vinyl music albums (remember those?) to play. I literally did a palm slap to the forehead. I spent a wonderful afternoon with no technology at all, doing things the way I used to do them when I was a kid. It was a treat for the soul. The only thing not present from those early years was going outside to hang out on the stoop with my friends.
I was both thankful and sad when services were restored. I had my modern life back, but really miss those hours of disconnection. Maybe I should try to set aside one day a month to turn everything off – maybe we all should. Some of us do it by camping out in the woods away from civilization. I don’t like bugs or heat, so that won’t work for me. But a book and a record player might be just the ticket…