Two weeks ago I switched to a policy of rodent repatriation rather than murder, since this seems like a poor time in history to train in hardness towards suffering. And this is my reward for a bleeding heart: the fecking mice chewed through my -life- phone line, depriving me of my blistering 19.2K AOL connections.
I’d never relied on a dial-up connection before I left New York, even though I spent two years working at a dial-up ISP(internet service provider). At home I wrote on a unconnected laptop and up-and-downloaded at work using a WiFi card. Broadband, baby, broadband all the way.
Joining the beep-beep-crackle-beeeep masses has changed my internet habits, especially as I’m also sharing a phone line with homesick rangers and building contractors. Connecting has become an event.
I switched to Mozilla, despite their ugly logo that was poorly-designed for icon size. I switched not because it’s faster, though those who are wise in the ways of browsers claim it is. An eager-beaver browser can’t much improve a connection that never grabs more than 19.2 bits of information per second. But Mozilla has tabbed windows, a feature Internet Explorer lacks. Now I launch a Salon article, for example, and while it’s loading I flick pages two and three open in adjoining tabs. I scan my list of favourite blogs, and pop the updated ones open in another set of tabs. While the daily 90-100 spam emails crawl into my inbox, I zip around the internet like rat on crack, trying to grab everything I might want to read that day before I log off. It’s never enough.
I write emails offline and try to batch up the chatty ones into a weekly session to curb my addiction. It doesn’t work. I’m a reformed instant messenger: now I check my buddy list just to picture old friends at their desks, then disappear before I get an excuse to hog the phone line. (The few times I’ve left it on in the background no one flashed a message anyway. IMing after a long silence has all the friction of a phone call.)
I write these entries offline too, and have always done so. It affects the texture. I eat other peoples’ words like a locust, but I’m not much of a linker. This site is a series of (sometimes cranky) love letters to the people who read it, not a thread in a conversation between bloggers. I’m not connected enough for that conversation, and I write too slowly anyway.
Dial-up breeds idiosyncrasies and complaints. I look for the printer-friendly version of any article I read, to get it on a single page with no heavy sidebar images. I’ll scroll text to the bottom of the sea, but please don’t make me click. I’ve waited twenty or thirty minutes to download photos from the many besotted parents among my friends. (You’re worth it! Your babies are by far the best-looking babies in their age-group.) It needs to become much, much easier to edit all the new digital photos out there–most people I know can’t do it, and they don’t know how to upload them to a website, either.
There are still “designers” who forget alternative text on fancy graphic navigation–come _on_, people! At least if I wait, though I probably won’t, those lazy links will appear eventually. A blind person’s reader software will never get them. And I send special bad ju-ju to those who make fat Flash home pages with no alternatives. On shopping sites, yet! Flash is intrusive and irritating to casual surfers on a slow connection, and I’ve yet to see an exception. Skip. Goddamn. Intro.
In the US no one listens to the complaints of digital peasants. Who cares, cabin girl, you’re not buying from us anyway, and nor are the Vietnamese kids who crowd the internet cafés in Saigon. But the dial-up experience is remarkably similar to the wireless toys I worked on when I last drew pay-cheques. Connecting for data on phones and PDA(Personal Digital Assistants)s still requires patience and crafty information thrift, both from designers and customers. The gadgets are not optimized for freeform data yet, but it’s also because because the connections are as slow as AOL in the woods, if not slower. They will get faster eventually, despite phone company bumbling, but it’s good to have this period of forced simplicity. Scarcity breeds elegance, at least some of the time.
In the meantime, I’ve cobbled together another phone line, and am back digging (information) for victory.