Houston… We Have A Problem

HOUSTON…
WE HAVE A PROBLEM

DISCONNECTED FOR A WEEKEND

NO WIFI? GIVE IN, GET OVER IT, AND REAP THE BENEFITS

It was Friday afternoon, and unlike most Fridays, I was in the office and trying to wrap up a week of work. My wife, Paulina, was at home with the twins (a reminder, these little dudes are 18 months old), and texted me just as I was about to leave the office to inform me that they had somehow climbed their way into a ‘blocked out’ zone of the living room, found their way to the Wi-Fi router, and literally pulled the fibre optic cable out of the wall socket… “where does this cable go? The internet is broken!”. Paulina had run to the restroom for all of 30 seconds and the twins clearly took advantage of her absence  and concocted a devilish plan to break the damn internet.

Unless you’re living waaayyy out in the countryside, or on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, not having Wi-Fi for a few days isn’t a big deal. You just switch to 5G on your phone and hotspot to any device (including your TV) and stay connected until some Wi-Fi saviour comes to fix it all up and set you ‘back to normal’. We don’t live waaayyy out in the countryside, nor do we live in the middle of the ocean on a boat, but we DO live in an area which gets incredibly poor cellphone connection, a zone that is forced back in time where even EDGE doesn’t exist, and where it’s almost impossible to have a clear conversation on a call. We actually live less than 100m from a cell phone tower, and whilst you’d assume this would offer the best cellphone coverage possible, apparently being too close to one can cause the total opposite. Don’t Google it, just read on.  

So now we have no Wi-Fi, no cellphone coverage, no way of repairing the cable ourselves, and it’s Friday evening (of course it is)… Before I left the office, I called the provider company and hoped an engineer could be out to us that same day to ‘save us’, alas, no one would be available until Tuesday. I don’t know about you, but my first instinct was to freak the fuck out… NO INTERNET FOR DAYS? HOW WOULD WE WATCH TV IN THE EVENING? HOW WOULD WE GET DAB RADIO? HOW WOULD WE STAY TUNED ON WHATSAPP, SOCIAL MEDIA, EMAIL? HOW WOULD WE SHOP ONLINE? HOW WOULD WE DEAL WITH BEING UNREACHABLE ON THE PHONE? HOW WOULD OUR 5 YEAR OLD REACT TO NOT GETTING HIS NETFLIX FIX EACH DAY (you know, that hour when the house is finally quiet and we can finally catch our breaths and relieve our brains and bodies of the chaos that comes with having 3 kids under the age of 5…)? Then my wife reminded me, the heating is controlled through the Wi-Fi, so without this, it’s either ON or OFF. And yes, it’s winter and it’s absolutely freezing outside, so ON it will remain and so, HOW WILL WE AFFORD THE GAS BILL IF THE HEATING IS ON ALL NIGHT? All these questions which seemed so important arose, to which the answers all form part of our daily habits… Internet has been around for long enough now that we’ve become accustomed to it’s availability and take it for granted. But in these moments, it kinda feels like the floor has opened up from underneath us. Yes, it is ridiculous. But it’s real for 2023, in the western world at least.

OK – so like every problem that comes our way, we try to make do somehow. After an hour of trying to make sense of what a weekend at home without Wi-Fi would look like, we just began to accept this new ‘reality’ and just got on with it. After all, the twins have no idea what Wi-Fi is, never use it, and they still need to be cared for, washed, fed and readied for bed. So, we go on.

Here are some of the more obvious Wi-Fi replacements we found:

  • DVDs! REMEMBER THOSE? I have a collected hundreds of DVDs over the years and they have a special place in my heart. My 5 year old came upstairs with me and began selecting the titles which were age appropriate for him. I put a pile of films aside for Paulina and I to watch over the next few days too.
  • Books! We love books in our home, but we don’t always make the time to read as much as we’d like to. This was a great opportunity to make that time and dive into whatever took our fancy.
  • Games! We went through old games we had stacked in cupboards various places in the house, pulled them out and invited the kids to play.
  • Conversation! My wife and I chat pretty often, but in the midst of the family life chaos, we don’t often get to finish a sentence, or even be heard for that matter.
  • The outdoors! We go out often on weekends, but usually a bit of rain, a slightly stronger breeze and some rather colder air can deter us from that expedition. Without Wi-Fi, regardless of the conditions, we made a point to cover up and just go out. There’s a lot on offer out there, in case you’d forgotten!
  • There are many more changes we noticed, but you get the point…

Here’s the biggest change of all – we were more intentional about how we spent our time together over the weekend. Without the constant phone pings, the social media check ins and the endless time spent scrolling through the Netflix carousel looking for what to watch next (I know you know!), we had found a certain peace about our existence over that period of time.

In fact, I’d say we all benefitted from this experience, the kids especially. Noel discovered what a DVD is, and was more careful and intentional about what he was watching. He knew he couldn’t just change his mind 5 minutes into a movie to watch the next inane show on the platform, so he tuned in and it seemed he took in the lessons from the stories that were unravelling on screen. Minus a few DVD skips and freezes (remember those???), it was a more profound and thought out experience than what he was used to.

The same goes for Paulina and I. We had been much more intentional about what we picked out to watch in the evenings, and made informed decisions based on the synopsis on the back of the DVD jackets – and not based on the key art (picture) you see marketed on the Netflix homepage, or from the ‘top 10 movies in the UK this week’. There was something gratifying about this experience.

We also had longer, deeper and more focused discussions as a family. It feels to me that this gets harder and harder to do, with the countless distractions that Wi-Fi brings with it. When is the last time you had an hour long discussion with anyone without wondering what that notification on your phone is all about? Even in the workspace, it’s next to impossible to hold a team meeting without half the group switching their attention to their phone or laptop at least once.

The crazy thing about all this is that it all exists to make us more connected. But in reality, we’ve never been more prone to being so disconnected from each other. Think of the many experiences and interactions that are lost because of the internet. When’s the last time you asked a total stranger for directions instead of pulling out Google Maps? When’s the last time you asked someone for a film recommendation instead of checking reviews online? When’s the last time you wrote someone a birthday card instead of sending them a virtual e-card? When’s the last time you turned up to a station to grab a train without knowing the timetable well in advance, found out your train was delayed, and ended up chatting to a stranger waiting on the platform next to you, instead of arriving at the station at the exact time the delayed train was finally due to arrive? When’s the last time you smiled to a stranger on the underground (or subway) instead of being totally sucked into that game on your phone?

Okay, I get… You’ll tell me that the internet has enabled a faster, more efficient world. That sending an e-card is more sustainable than using paper, that if you know the train is late in advance you can use the time at home to finish off another task… All this is not lost on me, I assure you. But it all has a cost. An important cost, the one of being less intentional about how we spend our lives, our time. We often swap crucial human interactions for efficiency and speed, human experiences and memories for time saved and tailored offerings. Which would you rather have more of?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that we’re living the wrong way. I’m just as guilty of relying on the internet as the next guy. Hell, I relish in its efficiency and love being able to make use of all it has brought and enabled us to do. But maybe we can do all of that, and still find some time to be more intentional about our time and relationships. While, at first, not having Wi-Fi for a weekend seemed like a nightmare to me, it became a blessing. The experience, whilst I appreciate this is a VERY first world problem (we all know this), is one that has made me think about how I’d like to spend more quality time with my family from time to time, especially on the weekends. It’s made me think that I don’t want my kids childhood memories to consist mostly of them with their heads down on a tablet or a phone. It’s made me think that it’s important for us to discuss more as a family, to laugh together often and get out more. It’s reminded me that there are tons of experiences I don’t want to miss out on. This is the real FOMO (fear of missing out) in my mind. This goes for me and my family, but perhaps it goes for you and yours too – there’s a much better balance out there.

So, go ahead boys, break the internet from time to time! I give you my permission. We’ll be happier for it!

P.S.: Yes, I get how ironic is it that without the internet, this blog wouldn’t have made its way to you. But the question is, will this inspire you to switch off the router at home and put your phone on airplane mode for a while? Come on now, I dare you. 

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