Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gasping for Air

Today is the first time in a week when I've been able to wake up to the comfortable certainty of checking my email and the news from a working Internet connection in my own home. A few days ago, I got the computer virus infection equivalent of spinal meningitis--completely disabling, but if you're lucky, you live through it. (Helpful hint: if you suspect that a piece of malware has silently disabled your antivirus software, run don't walk to a skilled technician, because once the gates are down, all sorts of other spyware and malicious software will come flooding through). That same week, I had to send back the work laptop I had been using due to the end of a business engagement. Not only did I not have a way of accessing the Net, while my PC was in the shop I didn't even have a computer in my own home--or any way of working productively or accessing all the data I had stored on my hard drive, or on backups.

So, I'm through that week. I got my PC restored to health--thank you Beneficent Providence! : ) and I got a sexy new Macbook Pro to replace my client's loaner laptop. Still, all in all, it was a rather surreal experience. I don't consider myself any great technogeek, and I am far from the most wired person I know, but when I stopped to think about it, this was probably the longest time since my freshman year of college that I was without a regular way to connect to the Net from my own living space. During the times when I have been away from things electronic (on backpacking trips, etc.) I have typically been surrounded by people--this week made me realize how much of my community is virtual, and brought to my attention that I still need to work on forming more flesh-and-blood relationships here in my new hometown.

It also made me realize how much of what we know, and our confidence in the shape that the world takes, comes from our ability to Google, Wiki, or look up the latest story on CNN. I had no idea how bad last week's Wall Street crash was until many days later. I still couldn't tell you who's ahead or behind in the presidential race... a set of stories I had been following closely. It gives me new insight into the lives of folks on the other side of the Digital Divide--and it reminds me how much our experience of reality is shaped by access to a continuous supply of information (much as we access air, light, power, water, and the contents of our bank accounts).

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