Thursday, 31 May 2012

On being 'cut off'

Upon switching my laptop on this morning I discovered, to my annoyance, that the internet wasn't working on my computer, and then, to my horror, that not only was it not working on my iPod touch either, but also that my only known method of fixing it- turning the router off and then on again- wasn't solving the problem. I then decided to go downstairs and make myself some cereal whilst moping in front of my other great love, the TV. This morning however, this usually infallible source of entertainment seemed to be also temporarily out of order, with all of the usual daytime favourites (Jeremy Kyle, Location Location Location et al.) being replaced by a text box saying how Virgin Media apologises for this temporary inconvenience and would I please phone 150 from my Virgin Media landline should the problem persist. This revelation deals a somewhat deeper blow that that of the internet's malfuction- you come to expect that the fickle internet is going to leave you hanging on the odd occasion, but the television is a faithful friend always expected to be there, and when it isn't, you're left feeling bereft and slightly guilty, wondering whether maybe you've in some way offended Mr HD-ready Sharpanasony and this is his way of getting one over on you.

I'm sure you all know the strange 'cut off' feeling when situations like these arise. First comes the stare of blank disbelief at the computer screen- maybe it's a mistake? Maybe if I try diagnosing and repairing the problem one more time..? Then comes the popping to the loo to allow some time to elapse before you can check the computer/telly once again to see whether the internet/programmes have come back. (This step is invariably a fruitless endeavour; you will realise after doing it that you were a fool for thinking that it would be that easy.) After that follows the feeling of being wronged and the biting desire to let the world know of this great injustice that someone has decided to wreak upon you and your cohabitants. However not long after comes the realisation that your usual channels for moaning about problems like this- Facebook, Twitter etc.- are, for the moment, unavailable to you, and although you might muse upon sending someone a text to share with them your pain, you will probably decide that texts of this nature sound trite and whingy and are probably best avoided for the meantime. I speak, of course, from the perspective of somebody with a five-year-old phone with no touchscreen, no apps and no internet. For those of you who are happy to foot a £76/week bill for an iPhone or some other shiny little mugger-magnet, the problem of No Internet is obviously alleviated somewhat, but please cast your minds back to the days of yesteryear when you too could have fallen victim to the curse of Windows found a problem that cannot be repaired automatically, contact your ISP for help. Lastly comes hopelessness and the resignation to the fact that it is quite possible that you will never again have a working internet connection and that you are from here on in bound to a life of boredom and technological failure.

I am fully aware of how trivial this problem sounds. If I had had a working television whilst experiencing it, I would probably have switched on to an advert campaigning for Oxfam or Save The Children and realised the full extent to which I was getting caught up in 'first world problems', probably causing me to shut up, not write this blog and instead ponder for a while on how lucky I am that I have a roof over my head and food to eat. But for reasons mentioned above, I had no telly and so never saw any such advert, thus making this a bit of a moot point.

So let's go back to the original problem. Bored student, no internet, no television. What does one do? Tidy up? Let's not be too drastic here. After sitting on my bed and staring out of the window for a few moments, I noticed my small pile of unread books which had been accumulating over the course of the year on my little Ikea shelves. Among these lay Why does E=mc²? by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw, a donation from my dad which I think, from looking at the £1.49 pencilled into the front cover, was once a donation to a charity shop. Maybe not a good sign then? Maybe nobody wants this book. But I reminded myself that really I had nothing much else to do and that I may as well take this opportunity to immerse myself in something with a little more intellectual value than cat videos on YouTube, and so sat down and read for a bit.

I read for quite a while actually, and found the book to not only be very interesting, but also far more satisfying as a form of entertainment than mindlessly wandering around the same websites again and again. I felt a sense of liberation that I haven't really felt for a long time, and I started to realise how much time I actually waste on the internet or watching telly and how much of a destructive thing it can be to be constantly 'connected'. Rapidly updating sites such as Facebook are, I think, at the root of the problem, as it can be so easy to develop a kind of psychological dependency on them to the point where one constantly has a Facebook tab open in order to check back every five minutes to receive tasty nuggets of information telling us that Emma really enjoyed her trip to Nando's or that Dan is about to paint his bathroom.

Sadly I am up there with the worst of them when it comes to internet addiction. As soon as we realised that the connection was back, I headed up to my room, turned my computer back on and went straight onto everyone's favourite blue-and-white social networking site, excitedly checking through my news feed like a hungry dog to see what scandalous pieces of breaking news I'd missed during my internet blackout. As per usual, there were none.

Maybe I am on the way to learning how to embrace being 'cut off' as an opportunity to actually do something or learn something. However I know that, for the moment at least, cutting myself off voluntarily is something that I don't quite have the willpower to do. More YouTube cat videos for me then.