The Rockwood Files: Disconnected

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Yesterday I got up and did the same things I always do – brush my teeth, pop in my contacts, scoop a sleepy 2-year-old out of her bed and amble downstairs to the kitchen where the boys are waiting for breakfast. Once I get breakfast in front of the kids, I sneak over to my computer and they hardly notice me leave because PBS cartoons are far more interesting than I am at that hour of the morning.

I push the power button and it instantly turns blue under my touch as the machine whirs to life. The computer does its usual warm-up routine and stands ready for my command, so I open my e-mail account, hit “send and receive,” and wait for the inbox to fill up with the daily deluge of junk mail and messages waiting to be read or deleted.

But that’s where things went wrong yesterday. The inbox stayed empty, and one word flashed at the bottom of the screen: “Error.”

“That figures,” I muttered to myself. “It’s Monday.” So I closed the e-mail window and started clicking here and there to determine what was going on. I pulled up a window that showed my network connection settings and frowned when I saw the problem. On the screen was a small icon showing a computer with the word “Rockwood” underneath. Next to that, there was a straight line linking that computer to a globe that said “Internet.” Right in the middle of that straight line was a big, nasty red “X”. I was disconnected.

I tried re-booting. I tried unplugging the modem and plugging it back in. Nothing worked. I called my husband’s cell phone to see if he could help, but he didn’t answer. He was in mid-flight on his way to California for a meeting, and I wasn’t sure when he would land. I tried my amateur computer fixes again and again and was met with “error” every time. I was getting irritated, so I gave up and returned to the kitchen to clean up dishes and herd the kids upstairs to get dressed for the day.

The day went on, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was just “off” – literally and figuratively. Being blocked from cyberspace bothered me more than it should. Somewhere out there were e-mail messages with my name on them and websites waiting to be checked. I kept going back to my desk every half hour to see if the connection was working again, thinking perhaps the Internet gods would take pity on me and magically restore my connection. They didn’t.

I left several jittery voice mail messages on my husband’s cell phone, explaining my cyber isolation problems and asking him to call me immediately upon landing. I called my friend and business partner and mentioned two or three times during our conversation that my Internet connection was down. I sounded like an anxious junkie waiting for a fix.

What was wrong with me? Had I become this dependent on technology? Was I so tightly tethered to the virtual world that I couldn’t live in the real one for even a day without getting edgy? I could practically hear Henry David Thoreau groaning at me from his grave.

Thoreau, a writer and philosopher in the 1800s, got fed up with modern comforts (although I’m not exactly sure what defined “modern comforts” in the 1800s) and moved to Walden Pond to live as simply as possible and get close to nature. He built his own cabin, grew his own food and secluded himself from the industrialized world that was developing around him. He recorded his observations in his book titled “Walden,” which contains the famous quote “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…”

I imagine that if Thoreau could have seen my nervous fidgeting yesterday, he would have sent me a text message from the hereafter instructing me to “Get a life.” So I got out of the house and away from my disconnected computer. I ran errands and ate lunch and felt better. I still wanted to check e-mail, but I knew that I’d be okay without it and it would be okay without me – at least for a day or so.

I’m sure I’ll never be as peaceful or self-sufficient as Thoreau was on Walden Pond, but that’s alright with me. Modern comforts are right up my alley, and I’d argue that a successful Google search can indeed simplify your life in some cases. Sometimes connection is a very good thing.

After all, even Thoreau didn’t stay on Walden Pond forever. After a couple of years, he moved back to town, bought an iPhone and invited Ralph Waldo Emerson to be his friend on Facebook. Okay, maybe he didn’t but perhaps he would have if he had had a decent Internet connection. That’s all I’m saying.

Want to read previous installments of The Rockwood Files? Click HERE.