10.03.2010

Feeling Disconnected


Last week we lost Internet and then phone access for a period of about six days. I won't bore you with the details of my repeated calls to Verizon, but suffice to say there is a very small list of things I dread more than having to work with tech support.

Having authored a report on the cost to individuals and to the nation of 100 million people in the US not having always-on broadband Internet access at home, there was a delicious irony in living out some of those costs. In the grand scheme of things, six days is nothing compared to never; but I did experience something of the inconvenience associated with being disconnected.

Sadly for the state of my character, what ruffled me the most was not important stuff like not being able to pay bills or check the weather, but trivial stuff like not being able to read my econ blogs or see how last night's games went. My wife suffered the same withdrawals. The Internet, for us, has become this comfortable thing we tap into to help unwind at the end of a crazy day (for Amy) or to kick-start the beginning of a day (for me).

Interestingly enough, my week without Internet access at home coincided with my decision to buy a weekly transpass and take the kids to school via public transit instead of my bicycle. (To further illustrate my neurosis, this decision came as a result of the confluence of three things: 1) lots of rain in the forecast meant I would have been leaving the bike at home a lot anyway, 2) a bunch of meetings downtown further made the pass more economical than individual tokens, and 3) I happened to be near a sales location the weekend before so I could purchase the pass in the first place.)

For all of the convenience of Philadelphia's public transit system, relying exclusively on rails and buses to get around has its down sides. For example, did I mention there was lots of rain in the forecast? And, at the risk of sharing "too much information," Aaron's very recent conquest of all major potty training milestones does not yet mean he has any sort of sense of when he needs to go and how long he can hold it, which makes waiting for or on a bus feel a lot longer.

I connect my week of buses with my week without Internet because while it is the exception for me, it is the norm for many people in my city and across the country. And, maybe this week was crazy for me for other reasons, but due in large part to my morning and evening commute and to my lack of Internet connection, I found myself pretty worn out and pretty crabby.

It is a tough lifestyle, even for a week. That was the length of time I bore it, and while the Internet disconnect was not by choice, going all SEPTA was. For many, there is no choice on either side. And that can make for a pretty difficult existence.

I think I'm made of pretty good stuff, but after not even a week of it, I was pretty frayed and pretty thankful to be done with it. Now that it's over, I can look back with sophisticated musings and measured perspective. But I must confess it was a rattling experience. I think I needed to be rattled, for how else would I be reminded how charmed and privileged an existence I live.

And, in a global sense, even in this discombobulating week, I lived richer than most of the rest of humanity and history. I had access to clean water, the sanitation systems I am a part of never failed me, and I wore more than one pair of shoes, which places me easily among the top half of the world in terms of life comforts. Let my heart be grateful for these things, lest I need to have my life rattled some more to be reminded of how fortunate I am to have them.

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