Is internet addiction hitting ludicrous new highs, or is the “net” such an ingrained part of our lives, that living without it is tantamount to starvation? A recent report shows that at the very least, people would forgo the pleasures of physical contact rather than temporarily lose access to the info-deluge. According to a recent Intel study, many people would rather give up sex for two weeks than stay off the internet for the same amount of time. The survey of over 2000 adults showed that 48 percent of women and 30 percent of men prefer the internet to sex.
Personally, I don't see any difference between the two possible explanations mentioned in the first sentence! True, most of us organize our "real lives" through the internet, making a net addiction less a sign of trouble in Cyberland and more an understandable reaction to the convenience of the tubes. For example, my fiancé Stephen lives the "Google lifestyle"– his calendar, address book, and now even his to-do list are all available only through the google.com domain. When he suggested that I start to use the new Tasks function, I said that I preferred my free trial of the wonderful To-do list application Things.
"For example," I said, "I can use it offline."
"Why wouldn't you have the internet?" Steve asked. "That sounds apocalyptic."
I mentioned use in the car and at my dial-up-only lakehouse, but there's one situation that I didn't even account for at the time: an extended power outage.
Marlboro is notorious amongst its students for losing power at least annually, it being an isolated campus on a blustery hill in cold Vermont. The song "Marlboro College No Power No Water" is a campus favorite, and particularly the lyrics "Thirty-thousand dollars a yeeaaarrrrr!" which is now one-thousand dollars out of date to boot.
So, a couple of days after classes ended and a few days before finals started, Marlboro was hit by a killer ice storm and lost power. Luckily I live in the one dorm that has a strong generator, so I had plenty of heat and searing hot water. Still, I was without lights, electronics, and most notably the internet. The entire campus was without electricity.
It was amazing.
The first night, the power went out during Open Mic. We took it in stride (we'd been expecting that the frequent flickering of lights would eventually lead to the extended loss of power) and began to clean up the Campus Center and rearrange the tables and chairs. When every beer bottle was in the recycling bin, we left for our respective rooms. I noticed the lack of working internet on my laptop (which still had an hour of juice left at this point) and hoped that it everything would be restored soon.
The next day I woke early and lay in bed as I heard trees crashing outside under the weight of all the ice. Eventually I suited up for the cold and braved the walk to the dining hall in hopes that the toaster would somehow be working.
I walked to the restored barns I take my meals in and found it to be very nearly empty– not unusual for pre-7 AM. What was different is the lack of dining hall staff. The roads were too icy for anyone to drive to the hill without seriously risking their safety. But guess who was in the kitchen?
Ellen Lovell, the president of the entire fucking college, had braved the extremely dangerous roads to cook food for hungry students without electricity. Marlboro College is the most amazing school on the face of the earth.
I told her how amazing she was, a compliment which she of course deflected, and began to make pancakes with her. KP, the master electrician and love of everyone in the school, unlocked everything for us, and student dishwasher Joan told us where everything was. I chopped fruit and put out cereal. When people started to slowly funnel in, I greeted everyone by name and told them that pancakes and tea water were being kept warm for them in the kitchen.
I sang "Fever" for Ellen while she flipped pancakes (KP insisted that she make them from mix, not scratch) and played jazz songs with what was left of my laptop battery. I gave Joan my flashlight, which would become quite essential over the next few days, so she could make it to the freezer and prepare for lunch. Ellen, I will mention, stayed all day, several days, to help cook meals. We all gathered for each meal in the warm dining hall, shining our flashlights, playing board games, making music, having conversations.
No one needed the internet. We all kind of missed it, but none of us so much that we really wanted it back. Everyone found diverse ways of entertainment. We became more of a community. We spent more time together, we walked to people's dorms when we wanted to contact them, we spent time together instead of staying in our rooms lit up by the glow of a screen.
I left school after a few days of no electricity, at the same time that the school put everyone up in hotels that wanted to leave. I offered my room in Howland, the generator dorm, to anyone who wanted a space to sleep. In no other school would my room be taken up by my roommate of next semester (who moved in early to escape the cold), two of her friends, and two young fellows who lives on campus. Students sleeping in the same room as professors? I don't even know if that's allowed at other schools, never mind if students and teachers are close and kind enough to share quarters.
I would never choose the internet over sex for two weeks, nor would I give it up for romance, writing, reading books, singing or sitting close to friends and talking withe excited voices. The internet is wonderful, of course– why else would I be blogging right now?– but is it better than real, physical companionship? Not in my opinion.