This weekend, we bid a fond farewell to dial-up Internet. With the invaluable assistance of my cousin-in-law Jeff, we’ve swapped 28 kilobytes for 3 megabytes per second.
For years now, Jeff and my father have been scheming about ways to get high-speed access to Plummer’s Hollow. They didn’t think that the phone company, Verizon, would be laying fiber optic cables anytime soon. But last month, a telephone line repairman out on a service call informed us that they had indeed installed a local fiber optic network this past winter. It seemed a little odd that Verizon would go to all that trouble and expense and then neglect to inform eligible customers, but once contacted, they shipped the new DSL modem willingly enough. It only remained to wait for Heidi and Jeff’s next visit — fortunately already scheduled for Labor Day weekend — since we figured we wouldn’t be able to reconfigure on our own the wireless system that Jeff had set up for us between the two houses.
We were right. On Saturday morning, Jeff muttered and puttered around for a couple hours while the sorry remnants of Hurricane Ernesto kept us all indoors. Dad and I were on hand with what you might charitably call color commentary: advice, perhaps, but only of the fatuous kind offered up by the guys in the press box who couldn’t throw a pass to save their lives. It took Jeff a little while to figure out what he had done before and undo it, but suddenly there it was: the new version of Firefox downloading from the web in seconds rather than taking half an hour. “Gee, look at that, Paw!” To say we were stunned would be an understatement. After lunch, a couple more hours sufficed for Jeff to install a new wireless network.
On Sunday, while Jeff and Heidi’s six-year-old daughter Morgan went off to explore in the woods with my mother, the laptops came out in the living room. That’s the funny thing about computers: since they tend to be less absorbing than books, somehow their use doesn’t preclude social interaction quite the way reading a book does. On the other hand, when my parents sit together in the evening reading newspapers and magazines, they also frequently share aloud from what they’re reading, so maybe there isn’t a huge difference.
Suddenly, Morgan was back, in a state of high excitement: “There’s a snail! We found a snail! You HAVE to get pictures!”
And so I did. This was a distinctly unsluggish woodland mollusc — a snail on speed. They had picked it up somewhere down along the road, and it emerged from its shell almost immediately and began exploring my mother’s hand. While I snapped pictures, it glided rapidly from finger to finger like a circus performer, switching to other hands as they were offered.
Ironically, living out here in the boondocks far from cable TV, we now have a faster connection than many folks in town. Jeff explained that since we’re tapping into a node less than a mile from our houses in a rural farm valley with, presumably, fewer than a dozen other Internet users, we don’t have to compete for space on the cable. In his suburban neighborhood in New Jersey, by contrast, hundreds of people might be downloading files off the Internet at any one time.
Needless to say, this has left us all feeling a little breathless and barely able to believe our good fortune. But high-speed access probably isn’t going to change our lives. Like the snail, I’ll still remain fairly slow moving and low-energy by most people’s standards. I’ll still retreat into my shell from time to time. But I’ll relish being able to explore things like Flickr slideshows and Internet radio, and I’m already appreciating the ability to dispose of mundane tasks, such as reading and answering email, more quickly.
Best of all is the fact that I no longer have to keep my computer on all the time to avoid breaking the wireless connection between the houses, as was the case when it ran through the modem in my Dad’s computer. Now, I can turn the computer off before going to bed each night and wake up in a quiet house. More than anything else, it is that new access to silence that feels luxurious.
Click here to see all six snail pictures. If you have favorite sites on the Internet that you think I’d enjoy, I’d love to hear about them. My tastes in music run to blues, jazz, roots/world music, and modern classical.