In the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Irma, I remember the silence. We waded through downed tree limbs, counting our blessings and wondering when the power would return.
The silence was eerie and glorious. No air conditioning units humming. No TVs yammering. No…well, I do not know what else was missing but the absence was palatable.
The power was out. As was the hot water. As was the clatter of 21st century humans dependent on yammering TVs, humming climate units and clean armpits.
I thought back to that silence recently when our neighborhood suff ered the Great Wi-Fi Outage of 2022.
A cable company provides our Wi-Fi, the mystical internet thingy that connects us to, as it turns out, everything. The Wi-Fi went out on a Sunday and we groused about it the way we grouse about running out of milk.
Monday? Still nothing.
This was a problem since we are working from home. Amy is a speech therapist who works remotely and sees students from as far away as Idaho. No internet connection, no students, no work.
I work for a company that depends on many online meetings per day. Because of the pandemic, I work from home, too. When I called the cable company, I played up the desperation.
“This is bad. This outage will result in our immediate dismissal and, subsequently, a life of crime. If you do not fi x the Wi-Fi, we will rob banks and smash ATMs with sledgehammers.”
“I am sorry to hear that, Mr. Shecktor,” the customer service person answered. “We are working to resolve the issue. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
I love that question. Is there anything else I can help you with? We are out of internet. Our livelihoods are at a standstill. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
Much like the hurricane of 2017, our neighborhood mobilized. But this time we were not sympathetic to life’s natural rhythms. We texted each other with petty whining: “Sick of this. We will be out for days. Another deep-state conspiracy.”
On day two, I gave up and turned on the T V for solace. Nothing. Our programming was dependent on internet streaming—a format dependent on Wi-Fi.
“What else can I help you with?” How about enough Wi-Fi to see Michael Scott step on his George Foreman grill to eat bedside bacon on The Office reruns?
I realized the weight of our Wi-Fi outage when I—useless to my employer—plopped down on our couch. Life is too dependent on invisible internet particles. We not only depend on Wi-Fi for productivity, we depend on it for sitcoms and rabbit holes
and respites from online culture powered by online culture.
We depend too much on 21st century tech particles. We accepted it when Hurricane Irma forced us back to basics with smelly armpits. But when technology itself cannot gets its %%EDITORCONTENT%%amp;*# together, we curse the same silence.
Wi-Fi returned to our neighborhood on day four. By then we—humans in our 50s—had figured out workarounds, such as Wi-Fi hotspots. We were back in business and vowed to call the cable company to give them the same “what for” our parents gave TV repairmen without pliers.
In the end, the epiphany was simple: We are too dependent on things that we never imagined.
Meetings with supervisors five states away? Sitcoms on demand? Hitting “like” when a high school sweetheart posts photos of grandchildren? Perhaps we expect too much.
“What else can I help you with, Mr. Shecktor?”
How about perspective?