The office environment is different this morning: still, eerie, hard to define. People wander around in an aimless daze and huddle outside office doors, speaking in hushed tones. There is only one explanation: the internet is down. It’s like a big snow storm has hit the office and we are trapped indoors with no heat source.
Conversations drift across the cubicles, “How are ya holding up without the internet?”
“I don’t know what to do with myself, I’ve made my phone calls and now I’m at a loss.”
As the two full work days without internet drag on, the tension and frustration in the office rises higher than the Empire State Building. Interoffice emails (the only part of the web that is working) circulate with suggestions of what to do sans internet: fill out timesheets, work from home, eavesdrop on the interns, etc.
While the eavesdropping is interesting, the excitement wears off quickly and restlessness sets in. What will now occupy my mind and distract me from the work I should to be doing? How will I conduct the research I need to do? You mean I am supposed to concentrate on one thing for 8 hours?! How can I lead any semblance of a life without the almighty internet? As I grumbled these life or death concerns to my coworker she nodded in agreement then walked away adding, “Ahh, first-world problems.” And then it hit me: the problems that consume my life as a first world consumer aren’t jack shit in comparison to what other people face.
I was blatantly reminded of how much our society relies on technology while riding the subway this morning. Nearly every person in the car with me was pumping music through their headphones or playing games on their mobile devices, or both. Grown adults could not even last a few minutes on the subway without being glued to their phones like children in front of a television set. The businessman next to me kept pounding his thigh in frustration over the game of Tetris he was losing… pathetic. Perhaps it is because I am anti-technology in so many ways, perhaps it is because I gave my iPod to my mom because I rarely used it, perhaps it is because I am one of the few people in NYC that owns a phone without a data plan, whatever the reason, all I could think was, “Wow, this is sad.”
We have gotten to the point where we don’t know how to function without being constantly entertained, without our minds being constantly stimulated. Sometimes in the ten minute walk from the subway station to my house I find myself wracked with boredom and call my boyfriend for something to do. How did I get to this point, where, in a city of 8 million people with buildings upon buildings on every block and nearly every stimulant known to hu(wo)mankind, I cannot walk down the street alone without being bored? How sad!
I am not denying the benefits of technology; yes life is much easier now because of it but is easier always better? In a world where three year olds are crying for their parents’ iPhones instead of their toys how will the next generation fare? Is what we’ve gained with technology worth what we have lost with our own imaginations? It is a sobering thought indeed that in my first-world society the biggest problem that must be solved is how to get faster internet in our office buildings while people down the street are starving. We walk around with our eyes (and minds) glued to our electronics, stepping over homeless people on the sidewalk, in essence saying, “Let them eat iPhones.”