Register Wednesday | June 26 | 2019

Up Shit Creek Without a Link

(or WARNING not reading this column will drive you insane)

Brace yourself. NerdWorld headquarters have moved. We're still under the same management, but we've relocated from a cramped one-bedroom apartment to the ground floor of a house, which came complete with both a driveway and a backyard. An inevitable onslaught of springtime columns about Internet gardening awaits-but there can be no Internet gardening lessons without the Internet, and there can be no Internet before the cable guy arrives.

It has been my experience that God-or, in this agnostic context, benevolence-is not in the details. Those details, rather, are the spaces where everything goes to hell. And what a devilish playground of malice they be! For me, telephone and Internet are always the worst-hit areas, despite (or perhaps because) they come directly after water and oxygen on my list of "really really really important things." I have never once had these services expediently restored after a relocation. The cable company (which shall remain nameless, but here's a hint: the name rhymes with Rogers) is very good about turning those services off at the previous residence, but tends to fall short of the Service Level Agreement when it comes to turning them back on. This, in turn, produces emotions like "anger" and "confusion" in technology columnists like me.

It has been my experience that God-or, in this agnostic context, benevolence-is not in the details. Those details, rather, are the spaces where everything goes to hell.

During my most recent move, the misadventure in malfunction began with what a co-worker calls "the end of major combat operations." Vanessa likes to call it the "god fucking dammit!" moment. This is when the cable guy says, "Looks like everything's working," and you know in your heart that as soon as he leaves, things will go haywire. There is nothing you can do at that moment but say goodbye, close the door behind him and make a call to arrange the next service appointment. And, of course, this is precisely what happened. What followed was a first-hand lesson about Internet Withdrawal Syndrome (IWS), a condition that seems credible because I capitalized each word in its name and made up the acronym IWS-not to be confused with IBS, though there is overlap in some of the symptoms.

I'm going to digress for a moment here, but don't worry, it's almost related!

As I may have mentioned before, I haven't always been a dyed-in-the-wool, computer-type nerd. I actually began my working journey as a film nerd, but the first time I received a paycheque and exclaimed, "You mean somebody will pay me to dick around on a computer all day?" my stream was irreversibly diverted. My first brush with programming came via Macromedia Flash, whose Actionscript language is regarded by real coders as only a few rungs removed from Logo. I learned quickly, was moved into nerdier and nerdier jobs, and now here I am, a professional debugger. Through this whole process, I've been working with a mentor of sorts, who has assisted me with my nerdicultural acclimatization.

One of the offshoots of this education has been exposure to some extracurricular extras, including some bleeding-edge near-future science fiction. Instead of sitting down and googling something ridiculous-say, "Assisted Living Dracula"-I now actually use the Internet to access quality entertainment. The most interesting conceit behind much of this science fiction is the effacing of the border between one's mind and the Internet. For example: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow. It's a great little book by one of Boing Boing's best contributors, and interesting in ways well beyond the ones I'm going to exploit here. (Find out for yourself! You can read it for free at Doctorow's site.) This transparent access to data is one of the book's more interesting premises-it overlies and extends the innate senses. Data becomes a sixth sense. The book investigates what happens when that sense suddenly goes away: insanity, apparently.

Yes, the magic of the hyperlink returned to my life, mild relief was experienced, and trumped-up columns about that relief and the anxiety that preceded it were written. Oh, how I love a happy ending.

You see? Living without the Internet makes people go insane. Now, I've read a whole pile of words on this topic-as soon as I realised that the process of getting reconnected was going to drag on, my first thought was "column idea!" and IWS was the first thing I looked up when the connection finally returned. Some of the pieces are even-handed, but most of them fall into one of these two categories: cracking of one's manacles (freeing one to go play Frisbee or something) or horrible tragedy akin to losing a limb or going blind.

How would I fare?

The brunt of the impact was actually felt in the kitchen, where a large majority of our meals have been based on recipes pilfered from ... the Internet! This wouldn't have been a major problem if the cookbooks hadn't been underneath a mountain of other books in a box underneath a mountain of other boxes. But they were, and so dreaded improvisation ensued. Yes, the results were delicious, but convenience was compromised.

Speaking of deliciousness, one of the most delectable of all the inconveniences was our inability to call the ISP's tech support line to find out when the problem was going to be fixed-how is one to find the ISP's telephone number without the precious Internet? I was even forced to miss several exciting Guys' Nights In. Fire! Brimstone! The severity of these complaints speaks fairly directly to the real impact IWS had on my life: it didn't begin to approach the havoc wreaked in Magic Kingdom, but it did feel like a phantom limb-but a limb I didn't really remember having. It was more like a phantom gallbladder: some appreciable differences, minor stomach upset, but no blood coming out of my ears. Internet Withdrawal Syndrome, I pronounce thee a fraud! Our near-future world is not yet advanced enough for you.

The cable guy did eventually show up. How else could I reference something as obscure as Assisted Living Dracula and still have you understand what the hell I'm talking about? Yes, the magic of the hyperlink returned to my life, mild relief was experienced, and trumped-up columns about that relief and the anxiety that preceded it were written. Oh, how I love a happy ending.

David and Vanessa currently live and toil in Toronto-for, respectively, a large technology corporation and a large eCommerce vendor. They met via their blogs and were married in the winter of 2002. They have a hamster and two dogs, but no yacht.