Because we are transitioning from one house to another, we have Internet access in neither home for most of this week. It’s been nearly fifteen years since I lived in a home without Internet access. As with so many changes to routine and the things we take for granted as part of daily life, it’s good to be reminded that what we are accustomed to isn’t how it has to be. And while for the most part I have to admit it’s a big inconvenience to be without Internet access – not only for email but for looking up addresses and phone numbers, checking my Google calendar, backing up documents I’m working on and much more – there are ways in which it brings a touch of grace, as well.
For the past few days I’ve gotten on line only a few times in the course of the day, by bringing my computer to my parents’ house or the library and taking advantage of their network. In between visits, I tend to wonder what I’m missing out on. Is someone trying to reach me – an editor, a friend? (Of course, if they are, they can always call.) Is there a breaking news story I don’t know about? (Of course, I’d hear about it on the hourly NPR news broadcast to which I tune in at least every couple of hours.) And what about those thoughts that constantly flit in and out of my head concerning ideas I need to communicate to other people? (I’m finally learning to write them down as I think of them, and then use those notes to dash off emails once I do get on line.)
In reality, it’s reminding me of what daily life was like when I was in college and in my early 20’s, before the widespread use of the Internet. Contact with friends was sporadic, not continuous. Whether “sporadic” meant a phone call every day or a letter once or twice a year, there were intervals of disconnection. We had time to mull over our correspondences and our relationships, rather than constantly and ceaselessly expanding upon them. I’m remembering what it’s like to save up personal news for the occasional phone call with my sisters or my parents rather than dashing off an email every single time I think of something that might interest them. And I’m remembering what it’s like to wonder what’s going on with my college roommate and look forward to our yearly or semi-yearly get-togethers rather than just logging onto Facebook to see what she did yesterday, last night, this morning.
All in all, it would be dishonest of me to pretend I’m fine with this Internet hiatus. Knowing that hours are going by when I might not know about an assignment from an editor or an important new piece of information for a story makes me anxious about getting my work done sufficiently, and I miss the steady comforting stream of chatter from email and social media.
But I’m also enjoying the novelty of a kind of silence that isn’t common anymore: not silence in the literal sense but the silence of cutting off our usual streams of communication. My 12-year-old son, who during our enforced Internet recess is missing the interactive online games he frequently plays with his friends and the instant-messaging he often conducts with a couple of girls in his class, said it was like a power outage only without the cold and darkness. I know what he means. As with a power outage, we’re having to break out of our usual patterns and find different things to do, different ways to carry on our preferred communications and entertainment.
I never cease to be delighted by the thrill that comes when the lights blaze and the heat roar back on after a blackout. It’s as if we’ve been without heat and brightness forever and not just for a few hours, each time it happens. We’ll feel the same way once we again have regular Internet access. For a couple of days it will seem fabulous; and then it will seem everyday again.
It’s good to be knocked out of our routine and thereby to remember anew just what exactly our routine consists of. I’ll owe a lot of emails once I’m back on line. For now, I’m thinking fondly of my friends, working hard on assignments, and hoping that I’ll be forgiven for my lack of communication this week.