99.9%

test_1024x1024AT&T has been running a commercial that features a family that has suddenly lost Internet coverage. They panic, pray, spy on more fortunate neighbors whose wifi is still operating. The seconds and minutes tick by with no relief. Their lives are turned upside down. The ad suggests that if only they had invested in service from AT&T there is a 99.9% probability that this horrific dilemma would never have occurred. The moral of the sad little tale is that we must all be prepared lest we too suffer the indignities of losing our electronic contact with the world.

I always laugh a bit when I see that ad because of late I have been losing my AT&T Internet at least once almost everyday. The suspension of service never lasts more than a minute so I mostly remain calm until the signal returns. Still a fear lurks in the dark recesses of my soul that one day the interruption will last for hours or even an entire day. What would I do now that I am an electronic junkie? Where would I get my fix? Would I become as distressed as the hapless individuals in the advertisement that so amuses me?

Without warning last week I had to learn what measure of a woman I am. I was dog sitting at my daughter’s home when the unthinkable happened. The AT&T Internet went dead. I waited for a few minutes and soon began receiving messages about broadband errors, I was concerned but not totally distressed. I rebooted the system and sent a message to my daughter who was camping in Yellowstone National Park. I busied myself with other pursuits while expecting to be back in business before long. When evening fell and there was still no sign of a repair I began to actually worry but felt determined to ride out the temporary annoyance by reading and watching the local t.v. using an antenna. After all, I grew up in an era of black and white television, a single landline telephone shared by the entire family, libraries with real books, and newspapers delivered to my front yard with only slightly stale news. I understood what it was like to live the simple life without 24/7 contact with the outside world.

I retired to my dreams that night feeling rather superior. I had endured almost an entire day unplugged and it felt good to know that I had not become so spoiled and weak that I would freak out over loss of the Internet. I was not like that pathetic family in the ad.

I awoke the following morning confident that some noble repairman had taken care of the problem during my slumbers. When I realized that I was still offline a momentary panic seized me. I wondered how I would be able to post my blog. I have a hot spot on my phone but I had already received a message indicating that I had used all of my data for the period and I didn’t want to incur anymore additional payments than necessary. After a few minutes my rational side had kicked in quite nicely and I had decided that a nice trip to the local Starbucks would solve my problem.

As I drove through the neighborhood I noticed an AT&T truck parked next to a big box. A man was working away and I heaved a sigh of relief. Surely this meant that the problem would be solved. I relaxed while sipping my tea in the lovely atmosphere of Starbucks. I uploaded my blog and internally patted myself on the back for being so smart. I imagined the universe of online fun that awaited me when I returned to enjoy the once again functioning Internet system but it was not to be.

My hopes and dreams were shattered as soon as I attempted to connect my laptop and my phone to wifi upon my return to the house. The service was still as dead as a doornail. There would be no Netflix in my immediate future. I was stranded on an electronic desert and it felt abnormal. My resolve began to crumble as I finally understood that I was caught in the .1% dead zone of AT&T service. I was the statistic. Somebody had to forfeit their Internet to mathematically support their boast and I realized that I was the lucky loser.

Somehow I found ways to revert back to my old methods for doing things. I used the necessity of visiting different venues to upload my blog as a kind daily entertainment. I enjoyed the quiet of the house and found that I was far more relaxed than normal without the constant news updates that I usually receive. When there was nothing worth watching on the television I explored the area, read, and took walks. I soon established a routine devoid of devotion to social media and the noise of the constant chatter that so dominates the world. It wasn’t a disaster after all. It was actually quite nice. I reached a point when I no longer even checked to see if the service had resumed for fear that I might find it fully repaired. I kept to the slower pace that a lack of media allowed me to enjoy.

I’m back home now. My own Internet is running smoothly. I won’t have to leave to upload my blog and I have hundreds of emails to peruse that I have ignored for over a week. Somehow I am more afraid of reentering the cyber world than being without all of those distractions. I found that my days were far more productive when I wasn’t checking for updates every few minutes. I noticed the loveliness of silence. I played with the dogs and gave them my full attention. I read three books in the space of five days. I actually felt more unencumbered. I had escaped from the bondage of comments and tweets. I was no longer hypnotized by worthless offerings from the television. It was an exhilarating experience.

I’ll be the first to admit that these are the good old days with regard to the tools available to us for communication, research, writing, and entertainment. The Internet has literally revolutionized the way we think and act. I would never want to return to the limits that once defined our possibilities and yet I worry that we have not yet properly adapted to our brave new world. Instead of using the Internet for our benefit I fear that we sometimes allow it to use us. We have ironically fallen into a kind of hypnotic trance orchestrated by soundbites, popular culture, mindless and all too often incorrect information. Our newspapers have become purveyors of online slide shows and our journalists seem more concerned with “gottcha” moments than honest reporting of the news. The online world is falling all over itself playing a competitive game of outrageousness. The cyber universe has us all ginned up and the consequences have at times been disastrous.

I wonder if terrorism and hate would be as rampant without online sources keeping anger alive and well. Would our children be playing healthy outdoor games and reading more without the Internet and its constant stream of questionable entertainment? Do we really need to know things instantly? Do we even care what commentators think? Are we using the power of the Internet as effectively as we should?

The world is changing so rapidly that we rarely have enough time to adapt to the most recent ways of doing things before we are faced with even newer innovations. The pace of our inventiveness is moving faster than our reaction time. We really do need to step back from the insanity now and again. It gives us a fresh perspective as to what we really most need. It’s nice to know that our electronic world is humming 99.9% of the time but we each have the power to pull the plug whenever we wish. Sometimes it’s a good thing to tune out and tune in to what we really need.

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