Thursday, December 18, 2008

Logging on and out of touch

I banged my hand against the desk. “Somebody fix this!” I said to no one in particular, feeling as though I was howling into a dark void.

For the umpteenth time that evening my internet connection had cut. I could predict that it would cut after 10 minutes, and then I would spend another 10 minutes rebooting the modem and waiting for it to pick up a rather elusive connection. And this had been going on for 10 long days. I knew I had a mere 10 minutes to check a fact on the internet or race through the email on some of my online accounts.

I was at the end of my tether – I had phoned my service provider numerous times and my problem had now been “escalated” after we had disabled and enabled a host of modems and other items on my laptop. I was close to booking myself into a facility as were, I think, a host of friends who asked how I was and got a tirade on how I couldn’t stay online for longer than 10 minutes at a time.

And it wasn’t just the sheer frustration of not being able to surf or check facts; it was the sense of desolation I felt. I was in some wilderness in which communication was sporadic and missives slow. I felt as though a limb had been torn off. I had regressed to a time before we had email, but unlike the dark days before email I was out of the habit of just picking up the phone and having a good old-fashioned long conversation. Plans these days are made by SMS and email – weeks go by and you haven’t spoken to a particular friend but you have had numerous and sometimes long, heartfelt conversations by email. You know who has broken up with whom and who is seeing someone new, you know about a friend’s job interview, but you haven’t heard his/her voice in ages, not until you meet up for coffee or supper, of course, and, yes, you have made those plans by email.

This same lack of contact occurs in the business world too – deals are made and deadlines adhered to, and yet you haven’t exchanged one physical word with the person you’re dealing with. An occasional voice on the other end of the phone comes as a shock. This same lack of contact extends its dangerous tentacles to other areas of our lives. Email, messaging and SMSing have been a tremendous boon to our lives – but it’s no coincidence that along with the rise of these technologies has been the addition of a new word in our addiction vocabulary: email addiction.

There are some people – I won’t name names – who have up to eight internet accounts (it’s a long story, okay, I’m dealing with it, give me time) to those who take their laptops away with them so they can check their email while on holiday in between sighting cheetahs and elephants (look, I said I was dealing with it...) to BlackBerry addicts who make addicts out of others. I’ve become so used to being able to get hold of some writers on a BlackBerry that I am surprised when a writer professes they don’t have one.

My internet provider sorted out my problem. I logged on, cancelled an unconfirmed dinner that night and surfed blissfully for hours. But, I had picked up the phone a day before and called a friend who had moved cities months ago. Not only was she pleasantly surprised to hear my voice, but we connected and shared news as we hadn’t done in months.

Point taken.

(The Sunday Independent, December 2008)

No comments: