When the Dish Breaks: An Internet Time Out

I think of myself as a technomoderate. While I sit at a computer for some time nearly every day, I do so selectively. I email regularly, blog periodically, and update my website from time to time. I surf the New York Times daily, and Facebook weekly. While writing, I invariably call upon google or amazon to help me find a source or research an idea. In all, I use the web in moderation, to get the job done, while living most of my life in the real world—or so I thought. Then we spent two weeks at the end of the summer without an internet connection. Two weeks?

One day in August, the satellite dish stopped working. It simply refused to send our signals or receive those from afar. Was it clouds? The skies were clear. Over-grown trees? We trimmed. A shift in dish position? The technicians tried several before concluding that we needed a new transponder. Time required to order, deliver, and install: two weeks.

Two weeks. I wasn’t on vacation, or on the road. I was home, where all of the farmwork, artwork, and bookwork happens. I had proofs in hand for my next book that needed to be done and delivered, electronically. Two weeks?

Immediately, I felt disoriented. How was I to proceed? I routinely rely on my computer connection, I realized, to organize me. It sets my tasks to do, with its in box, out box, and drop box; its pop ups and sidebars; downloads and documents, blog feeds and posts. It is more than a list; it is a desktop with depth, a room in itself. And as I enter my computer’s room, that room enters me, recreates itself inside of me, as my world.

Yet my computer was strangely quiet. It no longer beeped and blinked at me with news of incoming messages. It was as flat as it looked, no longer a portal into realms peopled with friends and family, experts and strangers; and no longer offering a daily array of thickets to explore. To be plugged in to a virtual world is to be oriented by it, and I hadn’t known to what degree.

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