How addicted to Wi-Fi are we really?

You probably remember it: this past weekend, the Internet connection fluttered in and out until it finally went dark on Sunday. The Intranet still worked (meaning you could still use the Wi-Fi to access anything on campus like Jewell Central), but the endless streams of Facebook, YouTube and whatever the heck people access on the weekends halted. We even received emails addressing it. Amid all of it, I heard fellow students making rather cliché remarks—“just shows you how addicted to technology we are” or “why do we rely so much on the Internet?” or even “first-world problems”—and most of them bugged me. Our reaction, mine included, to the situation had nothing to do with technology dependence, or even cultural laziness, but rather our expectations.

Allow me to offer a comparison: this past week, the dishwasher in the Dining Hall also broke. Washable cups, ceramic plates and metal silverware were replaced by mountains of disposables. It was out of place, out of nowhere and somehow made the experience there different. People complained, made humor out of it and even placed plastic cups on the conveyer belts either out of habit or as a joke. We all, the dining staff included (for the record, I applaud them for how well the situation was handled), would have rather had real plates. Does that mean our daily use of washable utensils has created an addiction or dependence on them? Not at all. We simply expected something constant, like clean plates, to continue being there. When that expectation was not met, we may have reacted negatively, but we got over it. The absence of the usual symphony of spoons landing in the bowls of finished cereal or plates clattering on a full cart didn’t give anyone withdrawal symptoms. Even if the Dining Hall itself suddenly shut down during lunch, people would adapt and find food elsewhere. It’s because we’re not addicted to the Dining Hall’s food or their silverware; we simply expect it to be there.

The same can be said for our Internet access here. We unexpectedly lost it, and some people even experienced legitimate problems as a result. I was messaging a friend away in Honduras (he’s in an area with poor cellphone coverage) when the infamous “wheel of death” appeared. Accessing the Internet is an ability most of us have had our entire lives, so taking it away was understandably frustrating, but it wasn’t detrimental. I even finished my homework, and a lot of it was going to involve the Internet. Our free Wi-Fi here on campus is, yes, a privilege that much of the world still doesn’t enjoy, but in an environment such as this one, where the privilege has remained constant, our expectation is that it will continue to be. The same could have been said for the telegraph, the Pony Express, communication in the Age of Sail and all of the couriers and messengers of the past. Our expectation of an Internet connection is not a product of modern-day thinking.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Technology addiction is a real growing problem. In South Korea, online gaming addiction has gotten so out of hand that the government is passing laws to combat it. I’m not saying that the Internet outage didn’t cause anyone on campus to have a panic attack. There might have been a few students that were seriously affected by it. What I’m saying is that our negative campus-wide reaction was not the consequence of 1,200 cases of Internet addiction. I realize this entire article may be making a mountain out of a mole hill and that phrase “first-world problems” is only a joke (Weird Al even made a hilarious music video out of it), but I think it’s important to remember that there’s a big difference between reliance and expectation. We can rest easy knowing that the world of “WALL-E” is still a far cry from the one we experience today.

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