Unplugged: As We Become More Connected, We Become More Dependent

One of the new TV shows I've watched this season has been Revolution. The show is entertaining enough, but the premise is interesting: What if the entire planet lost the ability to produce electricity? In this world, virtually everything we rely upon, from computers and cell phones to refrigeration and transportation, would cease to function. In the show, citizens of the world are fractured into a kind of Lord of the Flies-style survival of the fittest within 15 years of the blackout, with, of course, the most cruel running the show in search of greater power. They do manage to continue looking fabulous doing it, however.

This past week, I've been dealing with a much less intense version of this scenario: almost zero Internet connectivity. When you spend much of your life working online as a web developer and writer, this can put a real crimp in your ability to get things done. My problem is that I moved and my new place is still waiting on service to be set up from Comcast (tick tock). The talk part of my phone works great, but the Internet, not so much.

Today is where it came to a head. The past few days, in order to work, I just went to a coffee shop or restaurant where I could get on wi-fi, but today I have to be home waiting for installers and various people. And I'm stuck.

I am managing to do this post via a kind of Frankenstein approach that gives me a few minutes of connectivity before dying again, much like the moster without a real human brain. But dealing with the insanely slow speeds, if any connection at all, reminds me a lot of when the Internet first came into being and modems moved at a snail's pace.

That got me to thinking about Louis CK's now-famous rant, "Everything is amazing and nobody is happy." It's true, particularly with technology. Yet, when a crucial link in that chain is broken, suddenly things get dicey.

It seems ridiculous, vulgar even, that anyone should complain about the mere loss of an Internet connection. "Oh, no, I'll not be able to Facebook today! The horror!" But, in truth, it goes deeper than that.

E-mail has become a more common method of communication than the telephone, as have Twitter, Facebook and any number of other social networks. Banking relies heavily upon electronic transactions. Our credit cards are approved with lightning-quick machines that even dole out cash. Power grids are interconnected with networking technology and many companies are run almost entirely online.

Now, this is not some cry to abandon it all and go off the grid. I'm not a survivalist or an extremist of any kind. In fact, I'm a nerd. In Revolution, one of the survivors is a former tech wiz who was rich until the blackout. When the power disappeared, so did his fortune and his skill for getting by. In many ways, he became dependent upon others for his very survival -- though he did somehow remain remarkably chubby for 15 years.

In our world today, people -- especially geeks -- are fond of saying that the nerds rule the world. It's remarkably true considering how dependent we are on technology. As I write this, I am stuck waiting for a technician to assist me in getting reconnected. It's frustrating not just because I have to wait, but because of the realization that without this technology, I'm not certain how I would get by, my livelihood based on its existence.

Fortunately, I grew up without the Internet, without cable TV even. I remember a time when music was played on five radio stations or big vinyl discs, when TV had four channels (five or six if you were lucky) and you needed a toaster oven and about 20 minutes to do what a microwave now does in seconds. I imagine I'd find a way to get by relying upon all the things I learned to do without the aid of technology.

But, what about the generation after me that grew up so entrenched in this massive web of connectivity via computers and microchips? I doubt we'll have a massive worldwide blackout that sends us hurtling back towards a feudal society anytime soon, but it sure does give one pause to think about.

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