Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Off-line, and trying (unsuccessfully) to love it

Can one live without broadband? Yes, it's barely possible. On my hill here in the west of Ireland I am reduced to dial-up. It's oh, so painfully slow. Forget video clips from CNN. Forget YouTube repeats from the Daily Show or Colbert Report. Forget Google Earth.

On the other hand, I find that my life has slowed down along with my streaming bits. I check my e-mail twice a day, not twenty. I find I am more likely to be out walking than sitting in front of my laptop screen. I'm reading more.

Reading the Economist, say, which is still a substantial magazine, rather than the dumbed-down, byte-sized Newsweek or Time. And what do I read in the Economist? Well, here in the June 9th-15th issue, are articles on: the opening up of on-line virtual universes, such as Second Life, so that one can click from one world to another as easily as one moves from page to page of hypertext; the transformation of the web from a document collection to a data commons; a company called Joost that will stream television onto your screen at 350 megabytes per hour; three dimensional holographic data storage; and speech recognition software. In other words, the world of broadband.

I could get broadband here if I were willing to sign an expensive 12-month contract with Vodafone. A friend sat in our cottage the other evening and pulled up this website on the crisp little screen of his cell phone. The challenge for me is not how to get broadband, but how to stay off-line. How to stay connected to the plants in my window. How to curl up in front of the fire with that novel I never found time to read at home. How to listen to the rain on the roof.