a computer virus drove me to the library

After spending months fighting an uber-virus on my computer, I was eventually defeated, robbed of $95 during the battle, and ultimately left…

After spending months fighting an uber-virus on my computer, I was eventually defeated, robbed of $95 during the battle, and ultimately left stranded, internet-less.

For days afterward, while the worldwide web eluded me, I wondered what was going on Out There.

I worried about all the e-mail messages floating in the abyss, with nobody to harness them and “Reply.”

I hatched complex plans involving discs, printers and cars in order to get my work to its final destination.

To do research, I left my home and visited a building called the library, where I meandered sheepishly through its mazes of ‘material.’

That week without the internet made me realize how dependent I am on it.

Comforting me only slightly is the knowledge that I’m not alone.

After relaying my pathetic internet conundrum some friends, one of them offered me solace in the form of a magazine.

An article in the March 2007 edition The Atlantic contained what he felt were some pretty alarming results of a study that asked Americans what they can’t live without.

In 2006, 29 per cent of Americans said they couldn’t live without high-speed internet, according to the Pew Research Centre’s report Luxury or Necessity?

It didn’t question Canadians, but doubtless it’s the same situation here, if not worse, considering more of us in Canada have internet access — 67.5 per cent of us or 21.9 million people, in fact, and of those, 6.7 million have high-speed internet.

The report also revealed that 49 per cent of Americans consider cellphones something they can’t live without.

Older technologies like dishwashers, air conditioners, microwaves and cable television, meanwhile, advanced towards widespread indispensability, it noted, compared to 1996.

For example, home air-conditioners got a 70 per cent rating in 2006, compared to 51 per cent in 1996 and microwaves were “needed” by 68 per cent of Americans in 2006 compared to 32 per cent a decade earlier.

The report notes that “wherever there has been a significant change … in the public’s judgment about these items, it’s always been in the direction of necessity”— and that the list of necessities just keeps on getting longer.

Lower costs no doubt play a big role in this phenomenon.

Remember in the 1980s when microwaves and VCRs were the ultimate luxuries?

If either of these things breaks today, $20 at Wal-Mart will buy you a new one.

A few pages later in The Atlantic, I read the results of another, very different, study. This one surveyed the poor of Asia, Africa and South America, specifically, those who live on less than $2 a day.

In some of these countries only one or two out of 100 people have electricity.

Luxuries there include bicycles and radios.

Food is sacrificed to buy televisions.

I suppose it’s easy to say you can’t live without something when you know you’ll never have to.

But what’s scary is that this over-abundance of cheap technologies here in Canada and the US, not to mention other First World countries, has made us a pampered, even spoiled, bunch.

Even the poorest among us can lead a pretty decadent life replete with cable TV, DVD player and a home stereo system. And if those things one day just disappear because of war, a global financial catastrophe or Armageddon, what then?

This past week without the internet made me to wonder what my life would look like without all of these luxurious necessities, internet access in particular.

I concluded quite a few things might change.

1) I would probably get more exercise. Seriously, at times I actually had to physical move around to get work done and to deliver it.

2) I would be more involved in my community. Shortly after I visited the library to do research, I was inspired to visit it again with my kids to read books and I ran into other parents doing the same.

3) I would read more books. By relying so much on the internet for information, I’ve gotten in the habit of reading short news articles, blogs and book reviews or excerpts rather than the books themselves.

4) Again, I would go to the library and read more books…. And I would bring my books home and laze on a comfy couch and read instead of sitting slouched over at my desk.

5) I would call more people on the telephone. Maybe this is just trading in one technology for another, but I did find that calling my friends, whom I normally would just e-mail, was nice; it got us instantly connected and, I believe, it might have played a role in us actually getting together.

6) I would work less and play more. The internet is too easy. And if you’re like me, and you use it for your job, you just might find yourself working all the time.

7) I would know less celebrity gossip. I can stop myself from buying the tabloids in the grocery store, but geez it’s hard to resist clicking on the Britney rehab story on my Yahoo home page.

Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.

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