Party Like It’s 1999: Life With Dial-Up

Roy: [picks up the phone] Hello, IT.  …Well, the button on the side, is it glowing?  [nods] Yeah. You need to turn it on… Uh, the button turns it on?  You do know how a button works, don’t you?  …No, not on clothes…

…No, there you go, I just heard it come on.  …No, that’s the music you hear when it comes on.  No, that’s the music you hear when… I’m sorry, are you from the past?

I, too, will be in the past for the next few weeks.  Not because I’ve found my own TARDIS; I’ll just be taking a trip to visit my family.  Though I grew up in the suburbs of a mid-sized city and consider myself a “city mouse,” since graduating high school my family has mostly migrated to areas that are, well, rural.  In the case of my mother, that means an area so rural that the only internet she can get is dial-up.  In the words of e, “You can still have dial-up?  That’s a thing?” Oh wait, there’s an IT Crowd quote for this too: 

Roy: Oh, do you remember the internet at this speed?  Up all night and you’d see eight women.”

The truth is, it’s gotten increasingly unbearable in recent years.  Here’s just a small sampling why:

The Internet Itself

Back in the day, everyone had slow speeds and limited capabilities – so everything was optimized to load as quickly as possible.  Today, they probably still try to optimize, but they’re optimizing with different expectations.  Everything is so much heavier.  Just logging in to pay a bill can take forever.

The Hardware

My parents have tried to stay out of the Dark Ages when it comes to the computers themselves, but there’s really only so much they can do.  When’s the last time you saw a new computer with a phone jack in it?  New laptops are right out.  My mom was trying to decide between a few printers, and then realized the decision was made for her – as only one of her options was not wireless.

The Economy

Yeah, it’s a pain when one street or one house doesn’t have high-speed capability.  But you might not realize even the business sections of some small towns are lacking in the necessities.  And guess what?  Hardly any new businesses want to move in under those conditions.  It’s a vicious cycle that keeps chunks of the country out of the 21st century.

Entertainment options

Take a second to think how many ways you might need the Internet.  I don’t know about you, but I know I’ve got my XBox360 hooked up.  My iPad uses wireless.  Even if I’m playing a game on a desktop that doesn’t have to be actively hooked up to the internet, like Civilization V or Portal, it automatically hops on at least once.  Also, I’ve chosen to ditch cable TV, so I use the Internet for all my TV and movie needs.  Are all of these things frivolous?  Sure, but they’re also just a part of how we live life today.

So functionally when I go to visit my parents not much has changed in the last 10+ years.  They do get on the Internet, late at night, when they have time to tie up the phone lines and chances are slim that someone will call.  Buying anything online is fairly miserable, so shopping is still mostly done in person, even though they aren’t exactly close to any shopping meccas (and gas becomes all the more important).  CDs, DVDs, these things are still necessary.

Now, does this mean I’m any less excited about visiting my family for the holidays?  Of course not!  We wouldn’t be spending that much time online anyway, I’m sure.  It does mean that I’ll be writing like a demon this week, trying to finish up everything I’d normally do this week as well as the next two weeks, because once I’m there, I’m pretty much cut off.

It means I get frustrated the rest of the year, because stuff like Facetime or Skype are right out.  Everything that makes me feel like I’m living in the future, that make it easier to stay in touch over long distances, are pretty much useless to half of my far-flung family.

So if my posts over the next few weeks feel a little bit like they could have been written in a vacuum, if there’s some bit of amazing geek news that I’ve ignored in favor of something that would be relevant any old time, well, you know why.  It’s because I’m partying like it’s Thanksgiving, 1999.

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