Its a shameful thing. I dont know how to admit it.
Im not wirelessly connected.
OK, now that you know the worst, Ill make some excuses. First of all, I am writing from a place that is really the back of beyond. If I had a broadband connection, Id send you a picture. Its the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the South of Spain, but not the side the ski bums see. Its the old Moorish Alpujarra slopes, with tiny little white villages clinging to the olive and orange groves. Pretty as a picture—and about as connected as a hermit.
Some people are made to be hermits. Im not one of those. I need connections. I need to be able to say “Interesting question! Lets see what Google suggests.” or “Ill just check with Jim on the Instant Messenger,” or “Those photos look lovely! Lets create a Web album for my blog.”
Now, it isnt entirely true to say that theres absolutely no connectivity. If I stand on the roof of our farmhouse here in Tijola, near Orgiva, I can occasionally get a signal from Movistar (Telefonica) or Amena. That doesnt mean I can have a conversation, of course. It just means I get advertising texts.
So I brought a Vodafone-supplied BlackBerry, just in case. It refuses to find a signal. I have an Orange-provided 3G card, and a Vodafone 3G card. Both should switch to GPRS when out of 3G range. And trust me, this is out of 3G range and both are sulking.
Dialup? If we had a phone, sure.
Well, Ive been here before and I know a trick or two. You line up an Inmarsat Regional BGAN satellite dish. Portable, cute, and reliable enough to work on a boat tossing in a harbor.
I set it up, and it cant find the network.
The only thing to do is drive into the nearest “town” and phone tech support. We discuss it. I drive back to the village and do what they suggest. It doesnt work, so I drive back into town. “Well,” they say, “it must be a faulty terminal.” Get a new one? Just before the holiday break? No, I didnt think so.
Well, we roving reporters dont give up that easily. I write the column and save it to my Flash disk. I drive into town and come to the Internet cafe. I discover that:
a) all the PCs are Windows 95;
b) the proprietor has no idea at all what a Flash disk is;
c) whatever it is, Im not plugging THAT into any of his advanced technology.
: Weve Come a Long Way, Baby.”>
What amazes me (as I resignedly sit down to spend half an hour typing my column back in from memory, more or less) is how utterly bereft I actually feel.
Forty or so years ago, I remember my first trip to Paris on my own—a voyage into the outer limits. You couldnt make a phone call from Paris to London by dialing; you had to ask an operator. She (inevitably, in the 60s) would not speak English. My French was up to saying: “Parlez-vous Anglais?” but unless the answer was “Yes, a leetle beet” or better, I wasnt going to understand the reply.
In those days, if you saw something, you bought a postcard, struggled to find what a post box looked like, and hoped your friends would forgive you for not having the courage to buy a stamp—and sent it. Those of us who traveled on business were envied by colleagues who didnt own a passport. We had to stick postcards up on the office corkboard to show where wed been, and bring back appropriate refreshment, preferably spirituous.
Today, we have got used to just pulling out the mobile phone: “Hi, Carol, its me, Guy. Youll never guess what Im looking at!” We expect to be able to check the scores on our favorite cricket or football team by looking at the nearest satellite TV, or by pocket e-mail to someone at the stadium, and perhaps even a photo of the action, goal by goal. We have instant messaging on our pocket PDA or smart phone when were away from IM on the PC.
Suddenly, being cut off from all this is like being struck blind and deaf. The world has gone away. And its shockingly disconcerting, disorienting, and even depressing.
OK, the plan was to relax over the break. The family, good food, a fire, some snow—we werent going to be hard at work. But even so, it left me sobered. If the world goes the way I expect, by the year 2010 the sort of connectivity we take for granted at our desktops, will be ubiquitous. And if we fall into a pocket of blank disconnectivity, it could be really a psychic shock. I wonder if we realize just how strange it will feel?
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