Sometimes life is a Joni Mitchell song

We lost internet for a while this past weekend. Apparently someone somewhere snipped a cable they weren’t supposed to snip, and so the whole block lost internet for two days. The funny thing about losing internet access is I never realize how much of our lives we spend online. Some things are obvious: Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook and WhatsApp are part of our daily lives, but we can live without them for a while. We’ve done it before – heck, most of our lives, those things didn’t even exist.

What surprised me more was how much I’m online when I don’t even realize I’m online. I tried to open a game I play on my phone and was immediately informed that the game couldn’t connect to the server and was thus unavailable. (What? Didn’t I spend five minutes downloading that game? What do you mean I have to be online to play it?)

I wrote for a little while, and then realized I needed to research how to say Happy Hanukkah in French. Except I couldn’t – because the answer was online.

I was in the middle of making a raspberry Danish – but the recipe I printed out that morning suggested watching a video on YouTube in order to do the tricky braid part correctly. Which is online.

I thought, okay, fine. I’ll read one of the books I got off Amazon this morning. Except I couldn’t, because my Kindle hadn’t downloaded them yet and thus they weren’t available yet.

Even Microsoft Word, which I own outright – when I opened a new file to type this up, I was immediately informed that my subscription could not be verified because I was not online.

All in all, it was a really frustrating two days.

What startled me was my reaction to the lack of internet, probably more than actually losing internet in the first place. For some reason – even though my phone still sent texts and received calls and could connect to the internet if I turned on mobile data – I could feel myself growing anxious. My heart didn’t pound, but I had a strange, light-headed, other-worldly feeling. My fingers tingled, like my blood wasn’t getting enough oxygen.

I’m not usually an anxious person; I’ve gone without internet before, when traveling or when the WiFi router mysteriously goes haywire. I spent the first year here without mobile data at all, so every time I left the house, I was unable to connect to anything. And that was okay, it was just part of life, you know? It’s something I accept(ed).

We’ve dropped internet before, of course – everyone does. Sometimes it even takes more than five minutes or so to click back in. After two hours, though, I was pretty sure it was broken – and I still didn’t feel better. My fingers still tingled or felt numb. My chest still felt like I had a vice around my heart. It wasn’t until I sat down and talked myself through it: You are fine. It is fine. It’s just the stupid internet. You don’t need it. You can still call out. You can still get texts. You can access via mobile data if you need it. You can go to the consulate in the morning and talk to the guy in charge of the internet and get this straightened out. You probably just hit the cut-off, and all you have to do is pay and you’ll get it back. No big deal. And maybe find out what the upper limit is so you can avoid this in the future!

And after that rousing pep-talk… I felt a lot better.

I don’t wonder if I’m addicted to the internet; I know for a fact I am. I’m online almost all the time. I like to look things up as I think of questions. I like being able to send a photo of the kids to my mom within seconds of me taking it – and having her respond before the end of the day. My camera talks to my phone; my phone talks to my computer; my computer talks to my Kindle. The only device not talking to anything is the DVD player and that’s mostly because I haven’t had the need to set it up yet.

And yeah, okay, maybe I could spend a little less time online and more time doing other things, like baking or brushing the cat or going to the gym. Or (God help me) reading the three-year-old The Monster at the End of this Book for the five-thousandth time.

Or writing the stories I post online. Tweaking the photos I’ve taken of the boys, to post online. Commenting on the stories I’ve been reading, obtained online. Reading the news of the world… online.

I can’t say that everything I need is online. My kids aren’t, my husband isn’t, my cat’s not. But so much of what I do that I enjoy – and the people I enjoy sharing those things with – are online, that I find it very difficult to face a world where I can’t immediately access it.

No wonder I felt like I was trapped, when without warning, it was taken away. (I can even pinpoint the twenty-minute period in which it happened.) It wasn’t that I was trapped – but I was very much cut off from many of the things on which I’ve come to rely. I’m not used to such isolation anymore, not in the same way I was twenty or ten or even five years ago, before I even owned a smartphone.

I think that’s probably true of most of us. Even my husband has a smartphone now – his work forced him to get one. He resisted for years, saying he didn’t need it. And he didn’t.

But when he upgraded his personal phone over the summer, he got a smartphone. He uses it every day to listen to NPR podcasts.

About a year ago, I read a book called <a href=https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20170404-station-eleven>Station Eleven</a> by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s one of those apocalypse novels, where rocks fall and everyone dies, and then we get to see what happens afterwards. In this book’s case, there’s a pandemic that kills something like 90% of the world population within about a week. The majority of the book takes place 20 years later. It’s a scary, frightening, fantastically imaginative world, and I was completely captivated it – but one of the things that frightened me the most was those weeks after the pandemic swept through the world.

It wasn’t the sudden loss of life. It was that one of the first things to break down was the lines of communication. No electricity, no phones, no internet, no nothing. Everything was gone. Everyone was isolated from everyone else.

I won’t give away more of the story, not really – but the part I loved best about the ending, was the tiny note of hope at the end: the rumor that there was a community that had figured out how to turn on the power again. And with that… the possibility of reaching out to someone else.

The idea of suddenly disappearing… and never finding out the end of anyone else’s stories – it scares me. Mostly because I think in a lot of ways, it’s also inevitable. I’ve been online in some form for over fifteen years now. There’s already people who I talked and interacted with every day who just don’t go online anymore. I have no idea what’s happened to them, how they’re doing, where they are, what their lives are like – and all too often, no way to reconnect, since even the platforms we used to interact are no longer in operation.

I remember when my grandparents were in their 90s, and it seemed like every day, another one of their friends passed away. At some point, that’s going to be us. Times however many followers we have, because of course my grandparents didn’t have a virtual set of friends. They had the people in their real lives. We have so many more.

Grim thoughts for a sunny day – and I’m not quite sure how to end my musings, except that the internet returned with as much fanfare as it disappeared, and sure enough, everyone was waiting exactly where I left off. Which is comforting, in its own way.

Joni may have sung it first, but this is the version I like the best.

Posted in my life.

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