Life without WiFi

I’d rather be out here instead.

In the weeks and months leading up to the Big Move-In with Spencer, we talked endlessly about two facets of life in our new place: the fact that he does not have cable (the horror) and, worse, the stunning truth that he also does not have Internet.

I’ll repeat that again, lest the crushing weight of this truth didn’t settle heavily onto your chest the first time: Spencer does not have Internet. We do not have Internet at home.

Look, we all know I’m addicted to technology. From Instagram and Facebook to Flickr and Etsy, I am online all the time. Like most twenty-somethings who remember life without social media, however, I often think about the toll it takes on my everyday relationships . . . you know, the ones with people waiting for me to stop snapping pictures of my wine slushie and just drink it. Not long after I got my first iPhone, I remember Spencer literally getting up to put it on a shelf on the other side of the room (“for my own good,” he joked. Or should I say “joked.”)

I felt anxious. Genuinely anxious. Like, upset and itchy and freaked out not to have that little portal connecting me to the outside world. When we visited the UK for two weeks in 2011 and I was totally sans online access (save the times I broke down to put a few pounds in the hotel lobby’s computer), I honestly felt like a crack addict itching for her fix. It was even hard to concentrate.

It’s been more than a week since I moved into a place without Internet — or cable. And though I’ve been endlessly busy with unpacking and organizing the upcoming wedding (less than three weeks!), I have to share words I never thought would leave my lips: I only kind of miss it.

Cell phoneNow, let’s be frank here: I’m definitely not without online connections. It is not at all the same as going abroad for two weeks with literally no access to anything digital. I didn’t realize how much I’d come to rely on my phone for everything from weather reports and maps to keeping in touch with my friends and boyfriend, and how dependent I’d become on that stream of communication.

So no, I’m not stranded in a digital desert without any water. I realize this. There’s my iPhone, for one — still ever-present in my little paws. And, you know, I’m online for eight hours a day at work — albeit not doing personal projects, so it is different. But still. I’m not disconnected, and I’m not pretending to be. But as someone who routinely spent all day on a desktop followed by all night on a laptop at my parents’ house, this is . . . unusual.

But not unwelcome.

I’m writing this at Mom and Dad’s on Sunday, popping onto the family computer to touch base with a few folks I didn’t reach during the week. I reported a non-paying bidder on eBay (why, why do people do that?); I put my beloved Etsy shop on vacation because I can’t keep up with “Harry Potter” scarf orders beyond the current fill (which is an awesome problem to have). Just, you know, putzing around online while I wait for Mom to get ready so we can run errands and do whatever nonsense we feel like doing on a beautiful fall day.

And I don’t need the Internet to do any of it.

After a few weeks of no WiFi at our apartment, I’m sure that familiar ache for online access will return — and I’m sure that, down the road, we’ll break down and sell our souls for some sort of monthly service plan. I know I will really miss the Internet when I want to work on pictures after the wedding, because how will I upload all of them? That’s when I get a little itchy and weird: when I think about getting my pictures online.

But I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. For now, there’s a whole big world out here just waiting for us.

And I’ll only Instagram some of it.

Book review: ‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson

My first iPod was a gift from a boyfriend enamored with technology. As Christmas approached, I started daydreaming about the fabulous present he was sure to buy me. It was our first holiday together; my expectations were high. Would it be a ruby necklace? A sparkly ring? Some awesomely unique gift tailored to my exact desires?

No. It was some little pink machine in a box.

“It’s an iPod,” explained the ex-boyfriend, a web guru and Apple devotee. I’d never even heard of one. “You can store all your music on here. It’s like a Discman, but with your entire music library. I figured you could use it while walking around campus.”

Then a college sophomore, it’s true that my daily walks were excruciating — and long. Round trip from my car to classes at the University of Maryland could take an hour or more. I’d noticed the slim white earbuds beginning to adorn classmates but hadn’t paid much attention to them. I liked technology as much as the next person, sure, but Apple wasn’t really on my radar. And neither was the iPod.

To tell you the truth, I was disappointed. I’d expected some elaborate show of affection, I guess, and this so-called “iPod” — even in pink — wasn’t really cutting it. Though my ex had even had it engraved, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. It stayed in its box until he came over to help me begin loading my CDs on something called “iTunes,” and now I’m feeling quite old — I mean, think back, friends, to when these things were new. And crazy. Sort of whacky.

I don’t have to tell you the rest of the story, of course. I became obsessed with that iPod mini. Four iPods and an iPhone later, I’m surrounded by Apple products and can clearly see the revolution Steve Jobs helped to create. We’re truly a tech-obsessed world, and many of the products we now take for granted were space-age concepts just a decade ago.

Ten years. What a difference it makes.

I approached Walter Isaacson’s epic Steve Jobs, a biography of the late innovator and mastermind, with some trepidation. For starters, it’s huge. More than 600 pages. And though I was fascinated by Jobs the man and Jobs the husband and father, I was less fascinated with the complete history of a company that has changed our world — even if I completely acknowledge that revolution.

Like first receiving that iPod mini, though, I soon saw the error of my ways . . . and realized I was holding something compelling. Listening to the audio version over the course of a month, I experienced a range of emotions while learning about Jobs’ life, trials, inventions, suffering, genius and, ultimately, death. By the close of the book, I was emotionally spent.

You may already have an opinion on Jobs, whose tireless pursuit of perfection and “prickly” personality once made him few friends at work or home. Born in 1955, Jobs grew up at a very unique time in American history. Once physically filthy and prone to bouts of introspection, Jobs was definitely an odd duck — and someone who didn’t take kindly to things like bathing and footwear, apparently. But his genius was evident from the time he was a teen, and he built Apple from the ground up through sheer determination and the ability to bend others to his will.

Make no mistake: Jobs wasn’t the sweetest guy around. He could be sour, angry, off-putting and vile. He didn’t suffer fools kindly, took no prisoners and was disdainful of anyone who came across as “stupid.” His standards were exacting, his moods mercurial; as quickly as he could shift from unhappiness to pleasure, friends and colleagues would be left sorting out the demands he’d make of their time and talents.

After conducting more than 40 interviews with Jobs over the course of two years, Isaacson has created an epic masterpiece that neither downplays Jobs’ incredible accomplishments nor places him on a pedestal. After finishing Steve Jobs, I felt I was provided a very balanced perspective on what made Jobs great and what also made him undeniably, completely human. His edges were jagged. Exploring, at points, his wasted relationships with his own children, his eating disorders and illnesses and his own cold, calculating treatment of others, Isaacson has created a picture of Jobs that feels authentic.

And at the end of the day? Even after hearing about his “reality distortion field” and ability to manipulate anyone into doing his bidding, even (and especially) his own parents? I still liked the guy. I felt for him. And perhaps it’s because I’ve recently lost an uncle to cancer, but I felt physically sick as news of his cancer spread — and both angry and sad to learn how little Jobs initially fought the illness, believing he could lessen its severity through some of his whimiscal fad “diets” and other strange treatments.

Though I found myself weighed down by the sheer volume of material, occasionally skipping through an audio disc or two after Jobs left Apple and went on to head up Pixar, the story kept my attention throughout. Jobs’ adoption, relationships and family were of the most interest to me, and Isaacson did a great job balancing the more “personal” information with Jobs’ professional accomplishments. It never read like a tawdry gossip piece, and Jobs himself commented on the foolish decisions he made when young — and the regrets he had about certain aspects of life, especially how he treated his parents and abandoned his first daughter, Lisa.

Regardless of how we may perceive him, Jobs was certainly an innovator whose absence has left a tremendous void. At the end of Isaacson’s biography, which Jobs never read nor controlled, I felt a gnawing sense of anxiety that the dreams Jobs had yet to realize — the goals he’d set; the products he wanted to launch and explore — have vanished into the ether, vanished with his death. Who will next pick up the gauntlet? I wonder. Who can press on in his stead, bringing us the next concept to completely shake up our world?

Someone will, I know, but not someone like Jobs. He was certainly one of a kind.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1451648537 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonPublisher Website
Personal audio copy won from Devourer Of Books

About the narration: Actor Dylan Baker did a wonderful job reading this monumental project — and I appreciated the subtle shifts between Baker as narrator and Baker quoting Jobs. His voice was both soothing and commanding of attention, and I would definitely listen to another book narrated by him.

You better watch out, you better not cry: Timothy is coming to town

Some people grow up believing Santa Claus is peeking around every corner, spying at every recess. Christmas songs have popularized Santa as an omniscient being: someone who knows when you’re sleeping, when you’re awake. If you’ve been bad or good. (So be good, for goodness’ sake!)

In my house? Well, Santa wasn’t lurking around every corner as we were growing up; we knew the Big Guy was far too busy for that. My parents patiently explained to their two eager daughters that Mr. Claus was preoccupied setting up for the holidays . . . but that didn’t mean someone wasn’t keeping tabs on whether we were eating our vegetables and practicing piano.

Santa outsourced all that.

In the mid 1990s, Katie and I were introduced to Timothy the Elf, Santa’s head of North Pole communications, via my dad’s old fax machine. A series of whirring beeps from the den signaled a fax transmission was headed our way. “It’s from the North Pole,” Dad said ceremoniously, and Katie and I scrambled to rip the thin paper from his hands. We read it aloud.

Timothy wrote us short missives about Christmas, hoping we’d behaved ourselves and listened to Mom and Dad. In one particularly exciting fax, Timothy included a hastily-drawn self-portrait: pointy ears, big shoes and a winning smile. We hastily sat down to write him back, promising that we had been very good indeed, and Dad disappeared to zing our message up to the North Pole.

Kids these days can chat with Santa on Twitter, watch his progress on radar and communicate directly with him through email. Technology has allowed Mr. Claus to plug into our lives in real time, and I doubt he needs to outsource his communication to Timothy anymore. Tech-savvy elves can do all that.

I imagine Timothy has been forced into an early retirement — another victim of the digital age. As Santa’s former right-hand elf, Tim is probably living the good life far from the icy tundra that was once his home and workplace. Maybe he’s lounging poolside in Bermuda, sipping a frozen hot chocolate and slathering on sunscreen. Perhaps he’s found a lovely little she-elf with whom to share candy canes.

Like many of us, he probably hasn’t touched a fax machine in a decade — but I hope he’s around to chat with my own kids someday.

Though I heard he set up his own Gmail account. Guess we’ll have to write him and find out.


Did you write to Santa when you were little? Ever get a phone call or letter from the North Pole?