It’s been about a year and a half since the last time I actually paid for the Internet. When I first moved into my apartment I slapped down my laptop, sniffed around for whatever free networks were in the air, found a few, and just settled in. That moment where I would actually suck it up and call the utilities and wait for the guy and actually pay for Internet access? It never arrived. I know it’s wrong, but where — I’m looking pleadingly at the director here — where exactly is my motivation?
Oh, it’s been a rough ride at times. Neighbors come and go, and their delicious free bandwidth goes with them. For a year I suckled off a network named after a long random-looking string of letters and numbers (anybody know what generates those? I see them all the time.) Sometimes I can tell exactly who I’m freeloading off of, when they give their network their own last names, or even their address. Lately I’ve relied on two generic networks, “linksys” and “NETGEAR” (all caps in original – I imagine them like paired cartoon characters, Itchy and Scratchy, Punch and Judy), who haven’t been quite as reliable — they come and go like willow-the-wisps, according to their own mysterious logic, even when I engage Airport’s excitingly named “interference robustness” feature. (I’ve often wondered why they fade in and out like that — some local atmospheric effect that causes signal strength to ripple and waver?) The care and management of my tenuous connection to the datasphere has become a subject for neurotic obsesssion. Sharp-eared friends have scolded me for endlessly, spasmodically clicking on that little Airport icon while I’m talking on the phone.
But sometimes even that inconsistent trickle of data dries up. I’m in the middle of my worst dry spell yet — almost a week without the Net. NETGEAR has been MIA, and linksys is occasionally up but isn’t letting me in. I can see a few stable networks, but they’re all password-protected — thanks for nothing, BROOKLYNMEDICAL. I’ve wandered all over my apartment looking for sweet spots, but no luck.
So I’ve been offline all night every night for a week, which does at least have the effect of motivating me to get to work earlier, since I’m jonesing for my e-mail every morning. Is this it for me? Are users just too well-educated now to leave their networks open? Sigh. I know Internet access is a privilege, not a right. But come on, Google — forget San Francisco. Isn’t it time you wired Brooklyn?