We’re used to certain comforts in our lives. Sarah doesn’t start a day without a hot cup of coffee. The first thing I’ll do in the morning is check my BlackBerry to see what’s going on (partly because it doubles as my alarm clock). They make our lives easier to lead — or at least convince us that they do.
But what would life be like WITHOUT them? Would we be able to lead our lives? Could we still do what we do day-to-day without them?
This is what I had to ask myself when I faced life without wi-fi.
It was only for a week, but for someone as deeply wired in as I am, even that can prove to be a challenge.
Despite the need I identified for us to get our butts away from the computer and spend more time interacting with the physical world around us, I find that a prolonged length of time away from the sites and programs that’re embedded in my daily routine simply JARRING. The separation anxiety was eased a bit by the fact that Sarah was thoughtful enough to get wi-fi access in our apartments in Paris and Rome, but by Week 3, I was noticing that I was starting to feel a bit duller, as I was lacking the rush of information that I was used to.
I’ll admit — not ALL of the information that I’m used to is particularly USEFUL. From quippy one-liners to articles I’ll never read and endless amounts of media that I’ll never have the time to consume, I’ll happily admit that I might have been missing things that may not have always been suitable for my brain.
So is it an addiction? Have I become so wired into the Internet that being away from it leaves me aimless and lacking direction? Am I your classic information junkie, where in an age providing a plethora of information rapidly and in any format we desire, the information I glean in a closed ecosystem (a city, restaurant or a cruise ship, for example) simply proves to not be enough to sate my appetite any longer?
I think the answer is a little more deeply-rooted than that. The answer lies in the role that the Internet plays in our lives.
Looking back at my post on authenticity and playing the role of the poseur, one of the things I briefly observed was how the Internet has evolved and how our usage of the tool has changed in kind. Some people haven’t changed their computer habits in a decade or more. They check their email, do some typing, maybe even browse the Web or check a video or two out. That’s one end of the spectrum. At the other end, you have people who’re more like me — power users. Much of what I would have once done using separate programs, devices or methods to accomplish are more and more often being replaced by Internet-based tools: bank statements, calendars, maps, documents, encyclopedias, journals — all of these (and more) are seeing a move from programs and paper-based solutions to information that you can access anywhere across the globe.
So when you're unable to access this wealth of information at your fingertips, you REALLY feel a difference!
But there's more to the world than data and the tools we use. Had I spent all my time on the Internet instead of going out to experience things, odds are that my life probably would've wound up very differently. So the lesson I learned? First World Problems are problems often not worth worrying about. They may annoy us, frustrate us and derail our days, but a website taking a while to load isn't life-threatening. Having the barista at the coffee shop mess your order up isn't the end of the world. And most certainly, in 99.9% of cases, if you can't plug in to the Internet, believe me — your head won't implode.
So let's all stop making problems for ourselves and start spending our time on things that actually MAKE a difference. We only get one shot.
–Casey E. Palmer