Arnie.021314

by Pete Mazzaccaro

I’m not sure when it first really happened. But when my high speed Internet service went down for three days last week, I learned quickly that I am totally dependent on the Internet.

I did not lose power at the house – so I can’t really complain. I had the essentials like heat and hot water, unlike more than half a million people who lost their power when ice took down trees and snapped power lines everywhere in the Delaware Valley.

But nearly everything else I use for entertainment and work is directly tied to the so-called cloud. I watch TV via Netflix and Hulu, use Spotify and Google Play for a lot of my music, get most of my news from Google News and RSS readers like Feedly. I have documents stored in Dropbox and Google Drive that I access for work.

Even the games I like to waste a little time with require access to a server to work. The one service I didn’t lose was phone, though data connections to T-Mobile at my house aren’t terrific. I could get an email every so often. Not much more.

I found myself trying to get some work done but couldn’t. Read? Couldn’t read anything current. Had to settle for “Rise of the Creative Class” by Richard Florida, which I had been meaning to re-read, even though it was published 12 years ago now.

On Thursday, I tried to go the library. It was no use. It was jammed with dozens of other digital refugees who clogged every available WiFi access point making connecting my laptop nearly impossible.

When I traveled to a local Barnes and Noble and then a Burger King, I found the same. People were standing around wondering what to do. I heard one older couple, who had clearly lost not only their Internet but also their power, discuss where they might travel to get their email. Warm showers, they could get. The latest Facebook posts were not so easy to retrieve.

When had it happened? When did I become so dependent on the Web?

I’ve had email and Internet service now for almost 20 years. But for most of those years, an outage would have meant very little. I’d lose email and the ability to surf the Web. Neither was a terribly big deal. I still read print, watched TV delivered via cable or satellite and never stored photos, documents or anything else on a remote server accessible only through a steady Internet connection. In the last four years, however, as Web services have flourished, I’ve gone along for the ride.

Now, like last week, a broken Internet disconnects me from nearly all of my entertainment and work tools. When the Internet goes down at the Local – a rare thing, thankfully – work stops, email stops, research stops, access to several vital applications and our Dropbox file share grind to a halt.

This would be the point where someone else might write that it’s too bad we’ve surrendered so much of our work and private lives to the Internet. One might even find a cautionary tale in it all – that we are “this close” to losing everything if there was some massive server failure that wiped out our services and all our cloud-stored files.

But I can say that despite the inconvenience of a “Web shortage,” when they work, Web services make life a lot easier and convenient. I never leave an important document at home or the office any more. It’s always on me. I’m way more organized virtually than I am in real life. My desk is a mess of papers, but the files on my laptop are all organized.

I wouldn’t want to go back to the way things used to be. Even if it means I might be left high and dry for a few days.