In total, my internet was out for a full 3 days, and the part that was most disturbing was that life at my house basically came to a standstill. This was completely unexpected, as my wife and I don’t generally consider ourselves to be “connected” people. We are NOT the kind of people walking around glued to our smartphones, responding to every twitch and tweet, or Facebook post, although we both have them. Nor are we the kind of people who keep all of our music in the cloud, or have a streaming account from Netflix (we are on the 2 dvd’s a month plan, if you must know, and most months we are lucky if we actually 1!). In fact, someone a couple months back called me an “early adopter,” to which I replied that they clearly didn’t know me that well. The only reason I have a smartphone is so I can receive emails from my kids’ schools in case there is an emergency and they can’t call. My wife’s smartphone doesn’t even have a data plan! So how were we crippled by a simple thing like our modem going down? That was exactly what we wanted to know, so we set out to find out how our life had changed so much. What we discovered was a little unnerving.
To begin with, my wife and I are both in grad school getting advanced degrees in online programs. When you have weekly deadlines looming, and you can’t access the assignments, the forums, your classmates, your professors or do research, or work with a variety of cloud-based tools you have come to rely on for 3 days, life gets a little stressful. But most people are not in that type of situation, so let’s put that aside. At the same time, I was also completing a long term course on computer coding via the web, with similar results as above. But again, this is out of the norm. Besides, with the inability to do school/course work, you would think our life would have gotten easier, not more complicated, right?
Turns out that we watch a tremendous amount of our TV through the internet; we get the cheapest cable package, but whenever we want to watch a particular program, we just plug a computer into an HDMI cable permanently affixed to the back of our TV and stream away on ABC, CBS, FOX, whatever, all for free. Without internet, we couldn't do that anymore.
In addition to our entertainment, most of our kids entertainment is web based, as well, whether through Amazon Prime, or YouTube, or web-based interactive games or learning materials (think Dreambox, IXL, Code.org and the like). For a while, even Angry Birds wouldn’t let you play without a live data connection. Bye bye kiddie entertainment, back to the old standby dvd’s and the complaints of how many times they have already seen this or that. (We now visit the library on a regular basis and keep a stash of rarely viewed videos handy!)
And it wasn’t just the kids entertainment. I like to play games online or on the iPad (FIFA Soccer, Real Racing3 and SimCity, among others) and my wife likes to do crossword puzzles, sudoko and word scrambles. But those were gone, too!
Couldn’t buy any books for the Nook, because those are delivered via the internet, nor download any from the library. All those nagging last minute things at work that need to get done but you figure you can just do at home? Can’t do them at home any more, so you end up leaving work later. Trying to organize a carpool between three people all through text? Turns out it is a bit of a nightmare. Want to know what the weather is going to be right before you go to bed, or when you first get up? Only if you are willing to wait for the television to tell you. Need to find out what traffic is like and whether you should take route A or route B? Forget it? Is the bake sale for preschool today or tomorrow? Guess we’ll just have to hope it’s neither. And the list went on.
Without meaning to, without even trying to. Without even noticing, our world had become a carefully choreographed network of always available, real time information, with very little wiggle room. Yanking out the network that provided that information all but crippled our system.
Have we changed anything as a result of this little impromptu experiment? No, but at least now we are aware of it. And while we still take our internet access for granted, we are also aware of the fact that its disappearance from our life was an annoyance, not a disaster. Go ahead, though, and try it yourself, you might just be surprised how wired-in you really are.