I am in a cafe without wifi and I feel dangerously adrift
I keep picking up my phone and putting it down again. My brain is firing off ideas – book that meeting! What was that thing on Twitter again? – and meeting the hard brick wall of non-connectivity.
I am like Mulder in one of those old X Files episodes where he keeps reaching for his lost gun, sighing as his hand hits the empty holster. At the time I remember thinking that this was excessive exposition. But now I am Mulder, reaching in vain for my arsenal of information, amusement, distraction, inspiration. I am Tinkerbell without her fairy dust; Amy Winehouse without the eyeliner and hair.
I mean, where does a cafe get off not having wifi in the 21st century, anyway? Isn’t it like a basic cafe right or something, like decaf options and the ability to choose from at least 6 different types of milk?
Isn’t this the very reason we enter cafes – to use the toilets and check our Twitter updates at leisure? What are all these other people DOING here?!
Some people think our addiction to the internet and our smartphones is a bad thing, I hear. We should switch off and get back to real interaction and face-to-face conversation.
Well, I disagree – actually, I’d quite like MORE internet activity in daily life, if possible. Why can’t I pay for my petrol on my phone without getting out of the car, already? What do you mean I have to fill in an actual paper form? When something requires me to phone and speak to an actual customer service rep, I feel like I’ve been stripped of an essential human right.
The thing is, if you’re socially anxious and a fan of staying in bed like me, ‘real life interaction’ isn’t actually always that great. It’s tiring and draining and leaves you full of regret. Whhhy did I ask that Scottish woman what part of Ireland she was from?
On the internet, these issues are totally NBD. Partly, I suppose, because the option exists to go back and delete yourself, and partly because it’s just easier to have perspective when you’re sat on your own sofa with a kitten and a glass of wine and the gentle hum of your daughter’s bedtime stories drifting down the stairs. This is how I like my social interaction; without too much eye contact, without public scrutiny, without the need to do my hair or get dressed.
In case my real-life friends are reading this and feeling affronted, obviously I like seeing you too! You, dear friends, are the happy exceptions, the people I am willing to brush my hair for and share the gin with. Seeing my friends is worth the effort expended, every time, but it does invariably leave me in need of a large nap and an hour or three of total solitude. Internet interaction is the thing I do to recover from reality.
& all that’s before I even mention the incredibly comforting power of instant information. I have always been anxious and in need of info-reassurance; at university I began calling my phone’s empty voicemail each morning, just to check I hadn’t missed notification of something terrible in the night. As an early internet adopter (I met some of my oldest friends on internet forums, over fifteen years ago ?) I found the lag time waiting for public wifi and smartphones to be invented extremely irksome.
I love the luxury of information at my fingertips, always. What’s that rash? How squishy should a ripe avocado be? What’s the cause of this traffic jam and how long will it take me to get out of it? And even, let’s be honest, sometimes at 3am – where is Madeline Mcann and what exactly were Jack the Ripper’s crimes, in toe-curling detail?
This stuff feeds my brain like a thousand tributaries to one roaring river of thought. That drip-drip of information, of twitter updates and exciting emails and wikipedia articles over cups of coffee are what make up the torrent of thought and activity in my daily life, and I like it like that. I have always been like this. If I unplugged and stopped consuming it via the internet, I’d go back to reading toothpaste tubes and encyclopaedias and yes, maybe the paperbacks on my bookshelves – but it wouldn’t add up to anything better.
But right now, I’m in a cafe with no wifi and I don’t have any of those available. Like superman after a cheese and kyptonite sandwich (my next fanfic project, FYI) I have been stripped of all that makes me powerful and left vulnerable and afraid.
So I am writing this post in the haze of desperation, and I suppose I’ll be glad of it, when I finally hit save. Even though it disproves my whole point, and argues for the other side. Even though it’s disloyal, in the end, to my very best friends – free wifi and the distraction of the my iPhone.
We climbed off the damp and steamy 82 bus and hurried home under a shared umbrella. My Grandma lit the false flames of the gas fire, pulled out the smallest of her nest of tables and set down a tray [...]