Having been on “low voltage” power for much of the week, I’ve been having a difficult time updating this blog, but it seems as though ConEdison, the local power company, has straightened things out after apparent bungling of preposterous proportions by management and utility workers working day and night opening, allegedly, every manhole cover in northwest Queens to try to determine what caused the grid to fail there. (No one in any of New York’s other boroughs seemed to have any idea of the misery of more than 100,000 Queens residents, of course. Queens may as well be Mumbai or Area 51 as far as Manhattanites are concerned. They actually had to set up Red Cross aid stations throughout the neighborhood, but no one outside of Astoria seemed to have any idea what I was talking about when I would mention it.) Low voltage was something I had never experienced before, and something, in my naivete, I didn’t think was possible. I had always thought that there no intermediate degrees between on and off. But for the past week I had semi-operable appliances: the lights were dim, the stove wouldn’t light, the coffee grinder labored to crush the beans, the fan would rotate but only at a painfully slow rate. And my computer would turn on, but the cable modem wouldn’t function. (Of course this probably makes me sound like a prissy primadonna. I had it pretty good compared to neighbors who had no power at all for nearly a week. All the stores and restaurants were closed in the neighborhood from lack of power, and frankly, I’ll be afraid to eat out for a while, until all that now rotten food has a chance to be replaced.)
Without the Internet my computer seemed pretty worthless, a fancy gadget to play Minesweeper with. And the whole time the modem was down I felt a low-grade anxiety that was unlike anything I had ever experienced before—it reminded me of dreams I used to have where I would be in high school but I wouldn’t be able to remember my locker combination, and I would have to go through the day explaining why I had no books, no papers, no pencils, no understanding of what the hell was going on in all of my classes. Without reliable Internet access, I felt as though some part of myself had become inaccessible, or that I was stuck with some lesser version of myself. Suddenly the process of building identity and social life on the Internet seemed precarious to me in a way I hadn’t really dwelled on before. I don’t think the trend will reverse and people will become less reliant on technology for social life and self-recognition; most likely connection to the Web will become more ubiquitous and reliable as all devices (I almost typed desires) become wireless and a Wi-Fi network with multiple redundancies covers the globe. Access will likely be a matter of money, and those who are able to afford it will live in a socially enhanced world and those who don’t will seem to disappear. I felt myself, in some small way, disappearing as I couldn’t access my e-mail and so forth.
When I first had Internet access, when I would connect at 56K through my phone line, I felt as though getting online was diminishing me, removing me from the world of friends I spent most days with and depriving the world of the main way to access me, my land line. I reduced myself to whatever small little question drove me to the Web for that moment, for there was always a reason why I would bother (usually it would be to check baseball box scores). Then I would disconnect and resurface, feel fully present again. But in the past few years the dynamic has irreovcably shifted and I feel less than fully present if I can’t access the Internet to see if anybody wants something from me, and to record little notions such as this on this blog or somewhere else where it might be seen. I find myself thinking through the notion of the network, the access being a kind of prerequisite for the habitual ways I thnk about what I’m going to do. Without it, I felt like I was having a hard time simply thinking. The Internet is now a requirement for me to immediately deploy my thinking about whatever I’m doing in a way that feels useful (an illusion, I know); the old uses for my thoughts (whatever they were) don’t seem as satisfactory. There I was reading my New York Times Magazine but having trouble concentrating. What’s the point, I thought. It’s not like I can even blog about it. I’m probably on the lunatic fringe of this, but maybe eventually we’ll all be in this predicament, thinking of the entire Internet itself as the thing we need to tell our bright ideas to.