Upon discovering that I’ve never had an internet connection at home, a friend of mine recently described this as “unbelievable.” Although I feel like I know plenty of people that don’t have household web access (especially now that most wireless signals are password protected), she’s technically right – a large majority of of American homes are now connected, putting me squarely on the cusp of society particularly when my income, education, and profession are factored in. This got me thinking about why, despite my near-obsession with emerging technologies and the inexorable march of media convergence, I remain disconnected from the world of mass info-tainment. As traditional formats grow harder to distinguish and net ubiquity becomes the norm, I’ve started to consider the implications of my lack of access during non-work hours.
For years I’ve been about half connected and half disconnected – I maintain a balance between old and new, in and out, necessary and downright useless. In addition to not having web access at home, I don’t watch television – I get grim satisfaction from the current writer’s strike insofar that it brings me closer to legions of other people who share this trait, albeit temporarily. Paradoxically, I’m typing this post in the middle of nowhere on an extremely nice MacBook, nary a wireless signal available for miles around. I remember feeling mildly panicked a few years back when I first noticed a router at my person’s house in Austin, afraid that I’d succumb to the temptation to check my email rather than doing something useful with myself. While I covet fancy new gaming systems I miss my old Nintendo that as a child I developed a complicated banging and blowing relationship to (and those of you who grew up in the 80s know exactly what I mean by that), and that I sold, ironically, right before starting library school. I prefer Iron Maiden and Merle Haggard on LP to their iPod equivalents, which I admittedly listen to on a daily basis. My cell phone, aptly described as “sadly busted,” looks like it was run over on a gravel road a few years back. But why, may I ask, should I get a new phone when I have zero reception at my rural cabin?
My main excuse for not having connectivity in my house is simply that I live in the country and it’s way too expensive. I have a stubborn reluctance to pay for things I think should be free, regardless of geographical location or income (see librarian.net for more trials and tribulations of rural connectivity). Furthermore, I loathe advertising. I’ve installed ad-blocking extensions and have for years refused to listen to anything but public radio, and have as a result been without commercials for so long that they send me into a fit of critical despair when I encounter them (although I do enjoy the hilarious targeted ads generated by machines necromancing my Gmail). I appreciate having NPR as my only source of outside contact in an otherwise deer, mouse, and spider-filled existence, despite the fact that this essentially reduces it to the un-populist equivalent of a totalitarian news medium. I’ve sheltered myself from the world of traditional and web-based tv for another reason – the bits of content left over after the ads have run. At the gym I avoid noticing the tv monitors with all of my might, but my peripheral vision tells me they always gravitate back to Fox News.
If this is all that I’m missing, I hope to continue missing it until hell gets as cold as January in Ohio. That said, by shunning media i’m cognizant of the fact that I may be disconnecting myself from the markets and currents most critical for me to understand as a librarian and educator, particularly one with an interest in media literacy. My self-imposed detachment has already caused me to develop a sad inability to understand parody and satire, not to mention the the current issues/media artifact topics picked by students in my library sessions. At what point does my distance become no more than a debilitating form of ignorance? Am I ill equipped to teach information skills when I maintain only a grudging acquaintance with outlets that 3% more Americans consult with greater frequency than the library itself?
Because I have lucked into jobs that keep me marvelously busy during my connected hours, I have never really developed a habit of “wasting time” on the Internet – that is, not acting out of necessity when online. Instead, I tend to strategize around the web-essential things I need to do when I get the chance – for example, in my degree program classes meet face to face only about 20% of the time, but I use the tactic of opening tutorials, online texts, and web pages in my laptop browser after work and bringing them home fully loaded, thus reducing the temptation to do anything but what needs to be done when I’m working on school-related projects. In the technology vacuum that I call home, I’ve gotten much better at processing ideas before I get a chance to make them tangible, which I hope makes me quicker at thinking on my feet in general. But I’m also missing out on a ton of things that would likely benefit me enormously, like a decent dictionary and online access to Cook’s Illustrated. Basically, my internet experience suffers from what some have debated as the digital library syndrome – an unfortunate lack of serendipity.
Nevertheless, that I’ve managed avoiding the internet as a downtimer for so many years is one of the reasons I still want to separate home and professional connectivity. When I’m online I’m working and vise versa, which is the way I want to keep it for the foreseeable future. I’ve resisted being more connected at home because I know that it will skew the off-time I desperately need to maintain a balance between overwork and health – given my propensity to occupy myself to distraction, I fear that such a move might be the last nail in my self-built workaholic coffin. I would probably post to this blog twice as often as I do now, my correspondence would reach a constant pitch, and I would be likelier to watch Planet Unicorn for the 30th time than bring in another load of frozen firewood. Although I don’t like television and I don’t particularly need the internet in all of my spaces, I’m sure I will succumb to home connectivity before too long (anticipating a fancier phone or cohabitation with someone who demands it at some point in my future). If so, I hope I’m able to spend as many hours baking pies while thinking about what I eventually have to do online as I do now.
Being more connected doesn’t automatically make you relate better. I’m pretty sure any of my Daily Show comments fly right past my students. But I definitely have to make a conscious effort to not get sucked in to my computer. I think my turning point was when I realized I was spending so much time reading craft blogs that I wasn’t doing any crafting myself. Now the computer is off more hours and if I’m watching TV I have some embroidery or knitting in hand.
I never had tv or reliable internet at home until I moved in with a sportswriter, for whom they were unquestionably a necessity. I had to learn how to tune them out, which is hard. I still spend more time reading and listening to records, but when I do watch tv it’s PBS or telenovelas. Never had any patience for baking, though.
Your post nails the interesting and common misperception that those who don’t embrace every new (or not-so-new) tech toy or resource available are technophobes. I, too, went a few years with an Internet connection in my home because it simply wasn’t necessary for what I was doing during that period of time. I, too, watch little television and, furthermore, don’t have a cell phone or a Blackberry or an IPod or or or. Technophobe? Hardly. When a new tool serves my professional and personal needs, I grab it and run; in the meantime, I’m quite happy staying connected in ways which more perfectly suit the work and play in which I am engaged.