Internet outage blessing in disguise

During the first major Internet outage this semester, my roommates and I found ourselves standing in our common room staring at each other, absolutely at a loss for something to do. None of us are very technologically dependent—only one person in our room actually owns a smartphone. Yet, on that weekday evening, we could not figure out how to amuse ourselves without the use of “the Interwebs,” as one of my roommates calls it. I think I ended up going to bed at nine that night because I could neither study nor procrastinate.

Academics have become absolutely dependent on the Internet—I can research a topic, write a paper about it, and turn it in without ever leaving my room. My professors provide course materials on Moodle; I can access course information at any time via class websites. Of my three roommates, I am the only one who has actually checked out a book from the library. But even checking out books has changed. I don’t need to go into the stacks in Miller, call numbers in hand, when I can just request them online. Someone will go find them for me, and I can just pick them up all at once at the front desk.

In a way, this has given students an incredible freedom. We can learn so much so quickly (thank you, Google). I keep up with current events in spare time throughout the day with a daily email delivered directly to my inbox each morning. I am able to go home the Thursday of finals week because I can upload my final papers from my flight (which I booked conveniently online), from my layover in Chicago, or even from my own home in California.

I also carry my laptop nearly everywhere I go on campus. If I have a spare fifteen minutes, I pull it out to check my email or skim an article. I am strongly dependent on my Google calendar. I no longer, as I used to in middle school, carry around a novel to read during any spare time. Instead, I just plug in. Because there, at my fingertips, exists a whole world of knowledge, opinions, and images I can access with just a click.

In August, a few weeks before the semester began, I met up with a couple of friends in Las Vegas. None of us had brought anything more than our phones with us—two slide phones and a flip phone—because we were headed to Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks. We drove through three states with nothing but an atlas (though sometimes we fired up the GPS), relying on our wits to get us where we needed to go and on each other’s company to amuse us. It was brilliant.

Often during the semester, just about this time of year, I yearn to unplug like that, to just take a month off from my laptop. I’d read actual full-length books instead of short articles; I’d make time to talk to my friends face to face or voice to voice since I wouldn’t be able to connect with them online; I’d finish my assignments without getting distracted by my email. It is an unrealistic dream, of course: professors post assignment changes to Moodle, class readings are often uploaded as PDF files, and email is an essential part of college communications. I would probably still get very distracted.

But maybe over winter break I’ll ban myself from my laptop. I’ll still bring it home with me (got to finish those papers on the plane after all), but maybe once I get home, I’ll shut it down and stash it away with my luggage for the next two weeks. Maybe I’ll spend my time baking and reading and tinkering around on the piano. Maybe I’ll walk to my friends’ houses or surprise my mom at work. Maybe I’ll spend my time face-to-face with the people I am physically around, rather than on a screen with people I will be surrounded by within a couple weeks. After all, I can email my parents and see pictures of my hometown online—why go home unless it is to experience it fully?

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