By: Kathy Iandoli
Having lived in the Northeast for my entire life, I can safely say that I’ve never witnessed a storm of Hurricane Sandy’s magnitude. There have been hurricanes here, but the devastation experienced across State lines up and down the East Coast this time is something I can’t remember ever seeing in my 30+ years on Earth. Millions of people were without power, and some still are without. Towns are wiped away. My apartment still had no power as I typed this, though I’m safely in my mother’s home, where I return whenever a crisis hits (regardless of its size).
For several days though, I had zero WiFi and minimal cell phone service. As I sat in my mother’s lit home with what I felt like was no access to the outside world, I tried to remember a time when this was my everyday life. I couldn’t.
It wasn’t even that long ago in theory. I got online for the first time in 1998; bought my first cellphone in 1999. That means I survived 18 years without either in my life. And as a child, it’s a lot harder to occupy yourself than it is as an adult. However, being without those two “necessities” during Hurricane Sandy was crippling.
For some reason I had no desire to read one of my paper books. All of the books on my luxurious iPad I’d read and I couldn’t purchase any more because I had no internet. I attempted to start this piece earlier, but for some reason knowing I couldn’t get online was like my laptop was inadvertently teasing me as I sat with a lit screen and no web access. It’s like an ice cream truck traveling around suburban blocks and only offering water.
I did have to write a few articles during my internet absence, but I couldn’t go online to Google any information. I had no Wikipedia; I had no online dictionary. At one point I searched for my leatherbound encyclopedias. That’s how bad it had gotten.
However did I survive with just a Smith Corona Galaxis and a collection of Brittanicas to write my school essays and term papers? What did I do when I was at the mall with my friends and had to call my mother to pick me up? Oh right, I used a payphone. What’s a payphone now though?
By mid-week after the storm, I heard that a local mall had internet access so I raced over there. When I got there, there were over a hundred people (all within 10 years of my age) seated on folding chairs at one of the designer department stores with all of their gadgets plugged in, hard at work on their devices like they were a bunch of addicts. So I joined my people, fired up my laptop and went to work.
Since so many people were using the WiFi, the internet was running incredibly slow. They suggested I attach a cable and work off a cable modem, but I was highly offended. Then it hit me: when I first got online, I had a 36.6 kbps dial-up modem. I used to wait for the little yellow AOL man (who vaguely resembled a Keith Haring painting) to run from the dialing box to the “connecting to host” box before finally getting the “Welcome! You’ve Got Mail” message. Sometimes that took over three minutes to complete back in 1998, and I was losing my mind in 2012 over a 45-second delay in loading webpages.
Further, I was annoyed that I was asked to connect a cable, because I knew I would lack mobility, forgetting that I was tethered to my desk for ages with a cable modem attached to a computer that was too heavy to ever carry around with me. My fellow Gen-Xers that surrounded me shared a similar sentiment, I could tell. The only difference was that I was the only one sitting in a puddle of guilt because I have always claimed to be the type of person who was above digital obesity.
Erykah Badu refers to herself as an “analog girl, in a digital world” and I thought that was I as well. It’s not. And while Hurricane Sandy swallowed some people’s homes, I was wading in a kiddie pool of “first world problems.” Who did I think I was anyway? I got up from my folding chair and walked around the mall, where the millennials were having their own crises. The only difference was they needed power outlets and that was it. Their necessities live on a 4g network (what’s WiFi?), so while their service was limited, they had more than most. It’s a vicious cycle, really.
I am happy to report that my internet access has fully returned and balance has been fully restored. But is there a sense of balance, really? I felt damn near incapacitated by my inability to go on Facebook. When did I become that person? When did we as a society become those people?
Gen X-ers come from the last line of the analog world, and now it feels like we’ve forgotten our roots, roots that the generations after us will never have. I don’t know if I can personally reverse my way of thinking, but I do know that I need to dull my connection to being so connected.