Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Control of Constant Connectivity

I knew that I had come to rely heavily on the internet for a variety of tasks and basic daily functions, but I didn’t know how much until I lived in a place with crap internet. It has made me see that I am addicted to constant connectivity, and living in Nigeria has been a hard and fast withdrawal from this addiction.

Email. Twitter. Facebook. YouTube. GoogleDocs. Blogs. News. Recipes. Research. Googling any random factoid I can’t remember. 

And I’m not even a person who plays any kind of games online or spends time randomly surfing the net. I tell myself that most of what I do online is purposeful and necessary, but in reality much of it is compulsion and trying to “keep up” with the rapid pace and flow of information and technology.

When I was first in Nigeria I “only” had access to the internet when I was in the office on campus, and even there it would sometimes mysteriously not work for hours or days at a time. Even when it did/does work, streaming even short videos on YouTube is not possible, pictures load very slowly, and it is not fast enough for Skype video calls or Magic Jack calls. For a day or even a week, this may be ok, but knowing it will be the case for six months? Ugh. How am I going to watch the 30 second facebook clips of my friends’ kids doing super cute things? How am I going to watch the presidential debates? Olympic highlights? Let alone random hilarious YouTube nonsense?? Ok, I’m being a little dramatic, but you get the idea. It feels paralyzing, like I’ll be totally disconnected from friends, family, and the world. Like I’ll “miss out” on something important. Like I’m not in control. Ah yes, there it is, the root of it all. Control.

About three weeks into my time here I purchased a modem, which is basically a USB flash drive that you plug in and use to connect to the internet. For a certain amount of naira, you get a certain amount of data. For instance, I chose to pay 3000 naira (about $20) for 1 GB of data, valid for up to 30 days. As I knew I wouldn’t be able to download videos, and knew I would have access at work many days, I thought this would be sufficient. The modem is definitely handy for backup at work and a way to connect at home, but it is also painfully slow. Like mid-90s dial-up slow. Uploading a 2MB picture to my blog? Not so much. But at least I can email (in HTML format!) and check the news. Very very slowly. Except when it doesn’t connect or the connection is so slow that it might as well not be connected. Alas.  

I really shouldn’t complain. I should be thankful that I have internet at all. However, in a way, I almost think it’s worse to have crap internet than no internet. If there simply wasn’t internet, I would feel like, “Ok, I’ll just deal with it,” but when there is sometimes internet, there is the appearance of connectivity. And thereby control. Thus, I end up feeling like, “Ohhhhh this SHOULD work, so I’ll just try to connect again” or “Maaaaybe it’ll go faster today” or “Maaaaaybe if I just stand in this part of the house it’ll work better” and thereby I end up spending wasting far too much time trying to connect, waiting for pages to load, pictures to upload, or videos to download, and trying to figure out (nonexistent) ways to make it better/faster.

Bottom line: I’m totally addicted to constant connectivity and to having instant internet access whenever and wherever I want it. But it’s out of my control here, and I’m thankful that I have been forced to see the icky underbelly of my internet/technology habits, so that I can think and pray about what might be healthy ways to re-enter the wired world when I return to the U.S. in January. I think it's clear that I need to gain better control over my connectivity rather than letting the connectivity control me. Not an easy task for sure, but surely worth the fight. 


Dave Hayden said...

For someone who lived BC (before connectivity), this was really interesting to read. Information used to be the most valuable thing on earth. Now everything known to the human race can be had instantly for $30/month.

Some tips: watch TV instead of streaming video. As you're learning, video takes up huge amounts of bandwidth. And for goodness sake, don't send HTML email. It probably uses 100 times as many bytes as plain text and you don't need it.

Liz Spangler said...

Thanks for your thoughts Dave! It's interesting to be someone on the "cusp" in a way, as I grew up without a cell phone, the internet was only REALLY starting to be something that was constantly used when I was in college (facebook started when I was a sophomore, youtube wasn't around, Wiki was in infancy, etc)... so I somewhat remember BC. But not really. :) I wonder about kids who are teens now, ah man, they must really take connectivity for granted.

Streaming video isn't even an option here, it's far too slow, and I don't have a TV in my house, but that's fine. I'll be able to catch up on Hulu when I return. And I completely meant plain text, I don't know why I said HTML... even plain text takes forever to send with my modem!


AnnaBanana said...

I know connectivity - dependent even now, having it all (and i hear ours here is better than MOST countries haha) so the responsible part in me looks forward to ACTS when (from what i heard?) i'll have very limited online time, but then the control-freak in me freaks out and paniks only at the idea of missing out on anything and i find myself at times thinking of strategies how to stay connected haha (i've even considered snail mail!!!) So i totally understand what you're talking about. Praying for you!