I noticed in the adjacent room that people were asking about Internet connectivity. I bought a $5 24-hour pass to use a city wireless service, but there was apparently some free wireless in the lobby that wasn't working. At least three people inquired with great urgency at the front desk about the lack of an Internet connection. One older woman in particular seemed extremely agitated.
This was occurring at about 8 am in the morning, and every Internet cafe that was recommended to her by the concierge would not open until 10. And so she paced, and checked again, and then, out of the corner of her eye, saw me seated in front of my very functional laptop, clicking away. She strode over to me, her hands clutched out front in nervous anticipation.
"Are you connected to the Internet?" she asked giddily.
"Yeah, I bought the city wireless pass. It's about $5," I said.
She left for some time and then returned to the door to the lobby. Hovering around the door, I could sense the agitation in her awkward, writhing body language. You see, I had access to the yummy, mind-tickling Internet and she didn't. She would have to settle for reading the latest issue of Le Point.
She finally approached me with some hesitancy. "Do you mind if I ... use your laptop?" she asked, hoping, praying that I would say yes. I was on deadline. My superiors were awaiting my work. There was simply no way that I was going to let this Internet addict anywhere near my computer. Sure, she'd pledge to just check her e-mail "for five minutes," but that five minutes could stretch to several hours. She was a junky and I had work to do. I declined her request.
She threw her arms up in cartoonish abandon, as if to say "drats" or "blast it all to hell." And I derived a sick pleasure from helping her go cold turkey, at least until the hotel wireless went back up or the nearest Internet cafe opened its doors. It is indeed sick because there used to be no Internet and thus there used to be no Internet addiction. Back then, people had to settle for more mundane addictions like alcohol or gambling. Today, though, nearly everyone is a junky of this harmless virtual world sur Internet.
It's not that I am not guilty myself. I do enjoy the days, though, when life and travel keep me off line and back online in the "real world." What is sort of odd to me is that to the generation directly beneath mine, for whom e-mail addresses and puberty coincided, there is no separation between online and offline. As someone only a few years my junior once confided in me, "I cannot live without the Internet; it's like another part of my brain." That sounds a bit frightening. The Internet is a tool; not a part of my brain. I am a human being; not a cyborg.
My wife's younger brother actually went through a severe case of Internet addiction about half a year back. It's normal these days that younger people spend a significant chunk of their time online. But he was online all the time. I even drove somewhere with him once and he was using his laptop in the car, periodically accessing local free wireless. It got to the point that we were actually worried about the dude. His life was turning into some kind of Trainspotting minus heroin plus YouTube.
Fortunately, he has kicked the habit to some extent, and the last time he came over, he spent most of his time with us unconnected. I should spend less time online too, which I guess means less blog posts. But, as my seventh grade English teacher used to say, it's about quality, not quantity. Know what I mean?