Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Life when the cell networks and the internet are down.

Embarking on a life of high technology networking.

Cyber-incommunicado: Your life stands still in the Information Age only when the networks are down.

by Tom Thorne

Have you ever noticed contemporary cell phone behaviours when their instruments will not function?  Users who cannot get access for one reason or another feel cut off from life and happiness. They are off the net. They are incommunicado and they are very often stressed by this experience.

The stress of these moments is very telling. It is especially true of younger people who have never known a world that was not in some way tied into a network. When their phones go down they stress, fuss and expect to be on to talk, text or access web sites. They also seem to have little understanding of the technical infrastructure than enables them to connect. There is a bald acceptance that it is always there.

Yesterday the electricity was down at the home of my daughter and all of her three children wondered when it would be up again so they could resume their network connections. One of them wanted to research an essay for school. After dinner we took her home with us so she could do her work. During to the electrical blackout I was more concerned that we wouldn’t be able to warm up the pizza.

Failure of the networks they subscribe to is a major interruption to their convenience. They take for granted access to sophisticated networks that always work. It is their normal to be always connected. 

I study my own children, their husbands and wives and my grand children who live in this this world of instant communication. Older septuagenarian geriatrics like me are always under their tutelage to get the best phone plan, learn to text and use cell phone features that frankly I find mesmerizing.

All the grandchildren in our family have their own cell phones or web enabled iPods. They live a networked world and many have Facebook and Twitter accounts to tell every detail of their lives and post pictures to illustrate each moment.  They are all media celebrities and who knows when one of them may go “viral”.

All have web access through laptops,  pads of all kinds , iPods and their own cell phones. Each family has a mini cell phone network set up to retrieve kids from school, hockey, scouts or sleepovers. It is all so normal. It is life and living today. And when they are home and even in public spaces they all live in a wifi world. When they visit they ask if I have changed the password.

I am of course amused at their cell phone and web use which is now a “need” rather than a “want”. I get a great delight in teasing them. It’s my Scottish heritage and it is still alive and well in this brave new world. The other day for example I asked family members with Apple phones whether they have updated their iPads and iPhones to OS7 like I did for my iPad. 

They were surprised I even knew about OS7. I asked to let me see their phone and discovered the one I was looking at needed a further upgrade to 7.0.3 to really be up to speed. I stated that if “you are really up to speed you get a large white Apple logo at startup, your phone gets the old split silver Apple logo. Clear evidence that you are not upgraded and current.”  Better plug it in and download immediately I advised. That was too much fun especially done with a straight face. 

Of course it is of major sociological consequence that all this is happening. It is all taken for granted by most users. However to be an input output node on this almost endless worldwide network of cell, web and satellite connections is a profound social change. As a result to be cut off or suspended by a bout of cyber-incommunicado is an anathema to many users. 

I wonder whether users really understand the unseen infrastructure that is below the waterline that makes the internet and cell networks they use constantly work. Of course the expectation is that this vast system will be there 24/7 so you can play with your Facebook page posting trivial inanities. 

Generally I find the social media impoverished of wit and wisdom. It has all become a frivolous Information Age mindless tabloid. When people post pictures I try to caption them so we can raise the entertainment and content value of this new medium.

As the Information Age deepens its grasp on society it is tiresome when grandparents try to have a normal talk with grandchildren. First you have to get them to remove the earphones, stop the game they are playing with two or three remote players, or ask them to suspend texting with two thumbs a feat  my aging arthritic thumbs cannot aspire to master. They are focused on the moment. You feel that you need to dose their lunch with Ritalin to get their full attention.

Conversations are now text messages written in their pithy illiterate style. The English language is turning into what I consider to be an illiterate shorthand. The preteens and teenagers I know have mastered this new lingo and it may be the start of an entirely new version of English. This texting lingo is even more disturbing for the future of English than the current Scrabble Dictionary.  This volume brought English words that are acceptable to Scrabble culture to a new low. Imagine a texting dictionary when it appears built into new editions of cell phone software. 

So when the networks are down and the texting thumbs get a rest, what goes on in those brains of people raised on the networked world they think is so normal?  First they are sombre and disappointed. Then an adrenalin rush occurs that focuses on stimulating what they consider to be their natural entitlements to the fruits of a high technology society. 

This phase is followed quickly by a deep longing and a new mental ailment I call cyber-incommunicado syndrome. Victims go through a type of grief that can only be fixed when the networks come back up and they can log on again. 

A restored network for a user is like a drug induced high as endorphins are released creating a sense of well being and joy. One can only say that  networking in the Information Age provides further evidence that the medium is truly the message. You are your techniques.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

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