I’m writing this column from a small café near home, which provides free wi-fi but only for half an hour at a time. The candid manager told me that they asked the café’s internet service provider to switch off wi-fi every half hour and switch it back on after 10-15 minutes. He decided to share with me the part about the internet connection coming back on because apparently I didn’t look like the free-loaders they often have to ward off. These net users order one coffee and use the café’s wi-fi for as long as 10-12 hours, he said. He was clearly displeased that the café’s guests could take advantage of them in this fashion.
Confession time! I was at the café because my internet data card had not been working for about two weeks. My most reliable data card (so reliable that I didn’t even feel the need to get a back-up home broadband connection) gave up on me and innumerable phone calls and emails from my BlackBerry phone did not yield results. So here I was, at this small, quaint café, hoping to spend the day tapping away on my laptop using their wi-fi. It did work, too. This column got sent from the café’s wi-fi.
It has been a distressing couple of weeks. Yes, lack of internet connectivity can be hugely distressing for people who begin their day by sitting up in bed and opening the laptop on their, well, laps, and only after powering on the device, getting up to make coffee. I’m not a smoker nor am I an alcohol addict. I don’t have any other weird addictions. The only time I experienced what are called “withdrawal symptoms” was a few weeks back when I stepped out of the plane in Minneapolis.
I had been on two very-long-haul flights. I transited Paris but my flight into Paris was delayed. So I had to literally sprint across the Charles De Gaulle airport to make my next flight. I didn’t mind the run at all. It gave my body some good exercise. What bothered me more was the extended disconnection from the digital world. I didn’t have any time to switch on my phone or connect to the internet. I was frazzled, felt disoriented, which I can partly also blame on jetlag.
During the flights, I survived with the rush of energy surging through my body every time I touched the tiny screen of the in-flight entertainment system. The device reacted and that had a positive reaction on my body and mind.
Switching my phone on during the taxi ride to the hotel made me feel better. I started to feel even better when I reached my room and could power up my laptop and connect to the web. All was well until I got back to India and my data card gave up a couple of weeks back. I searched high and low for a temporary office space I could use for a few days – all I needed was internet connectivity and a place to sit (I could manage fine even without the latter). I was repeatedly hitting roadblocks because all the cyber cafes and internet browsing parlours in the city had either shut down or had turned into sleazy, dingy joints conducive for surfing porn. Our hyper-lives are increasingly dependent on one thing or other. Ironically, our fragmented lives are aiming higher for freedom and independence. The more I tried to force things to work my way, the more they would go wrong. We’re all allowed a few weaknesses. I just faced mine by laying it bare before you. What I’m not going to do, however, is to force this weakness out of me. Not just yet. The internet’s back on again.