When I first moved into Maxwell TerraceTM, there were enough open wifi networks around that it didn't look like I would need to actually, you know, do anything to get Internet access. On the day my furniture arrived, Maggie magsterama, Will terror_firma and I were able to sit around my living room with our laptops and take our pick of open networks. In the weeks following that, the options decreased. Still, there was usually an open network to be found. The connection would be flaky, but I often didn't mind, thanks to magic indistinguishable from technology.
Around the beginning of September, my parents came to visit. My dad borrowed my computer to read the news, and that's the last time I remember it working. When the connection cut out on him and he asked me what was going on, I had to explain that we were borrowing Internet from the neighbors and it didn't always work so well. His reaction was, "Well, that's no good." That was just over a month ago. Since then, my home has been sans Internet.1
Now, I could pay $50 a month for Internet access at my place if I really, really wanted to. But the thing about living for six months on $9,050.63 is that it makes one do a fair amount of thinking about which things it is that one really, really wants. And I'm no longer convinced that I do.
When school started, Alex oniugnip gave me a wonderful present of a big LCD monitor. It lives on my desk in the middle of my apartment. When I'm home, I plug it into my laptop. I plug the desktop keyboard and mouse into the laptop, too. I have all my stuff, but I can't get online. There's nothing to do but be productive.
My laptop travels hither and thither with me from home to school. When I'm at school, I read mail, poke at the blagotubes, and commit to version control the stuff I was working on at home. I might get a little bit of actual work done at school, but it doesn't happen often. There are too many distractions, and besides, why would I want to work hunched over a laptop with a 15-inch screen when I can just go home, light some candles, and work on a glorious wide 24-inch display with OmniGraffle and TeXShop and Emacs and Emacs and Emacs all next to each other and not even fighting for room? And no distractions? O frabjous day!
I'm not making any grand claims that I can get by for long periods without Internet access. I'm at school and online every day, for work and play, sometimes for hours. I'm aware that this no-Internet-at-home thing would be infeasible if I didn't have another convenient place to go online. All I'm saying is that I don't have Internet at home and that it works out fine.
I've been forced to find new and wonderful ways to procrastinate. Never does my mail sit unopened. Never does the air pressure in my bike tires drop below 75 psi. I buy dried beans, soak them, and cook them myself instead of buying the canned pre-cooked variety. Eight years after starting it, I actually finished reading The Scarlet Letter. And: I write. I've got a monster essay in progress about computer science, the liberal arts, and women, if I can ever collect the rest of my thoughts enough to get them written down.
But, see, here's the thing, and here is why I doth protest so much: when people find out that I don't have Internet at my place, they always react negatively. Starting with my dad on September 1, and continuing with everyone else since then, the assumption has always been that I wish I could have it, that I would have it if I could.
Now, to be fair, I didn't choose this -- it's a situation I found myself in. And I reacted negatively, too, at first. Since then, I've come to embrace it -- but nobody seems to believe that. They think I'm lying, or that I'm fooling myself. And -- and this is really the heart of the matter -- I think they're actually embarrassed for me.
You've all read Bridge to Terabithia, right? Remember how Leslie couldn't do the homework assignment because her family didn't have a TV, and how everyone else in the fifth grade assumed it was because they couldn't afford one? Her enemies laughed at her; her friend was embarrassed for her. Not having a TV was a class marker.
Among my peers in Bloomington in 2008, it is socially innocuous for someone to not own a TV. I don't have one. My peers -- and my parents -- either respect me for it or, much more likely, just don't react at all. But I don't think we're so enlightened when it comes to the Internet thing. I think that not having high-speed internet access at home in Bloomington in 2008 is a class marker for my peers, just like not having a TV was a class marker for fictional eleven-year-olds in rural Appalachia in 1977. I think that not having Internet at home is viewed as lower-class.
So, I'm outing myself as a person who doesn't have Internet access at home. It happens to be a willing choice, but that shouldn't really matter. And, y'know, maybe next week or next month or next year, I'll change my mind and call Comcast. Who knows? The point is that it shouldn't affect anyone's opinion of me, either way. I mean, what are we, eleven?
- Yeah, that means that if it's, say, for instance, 2:05 a.m. and I'm posting on LiveJournal, then I'm at school. Probably either at the library or in the Abyss1.
- The Abyss is a room in Lindley Hall, and it's almost certainly the best feature of the building. It's on the first floor, more or less -- but you have to go up to the second floor in order to get into it or out of it. Kind of like writing the Ackermann function in continuation-passing style.