Sometime Monday morning, my network connection decided to go belly-up.
I was in the middle of a Google Hangout call, so obviously the timing was perfect. The network failure began presenting itself as an intermittent pause in video (audio still seemed to flow just fine), so I chalked it up to a computer issue at first.
Alas, with three separate laptops running – one on WiFi, two hard-lined to the router – I realized it wasn’t an issue on my end. Both Windows machines were failing to connect to anything reliably, and the Mac didn’t even try.
I was able to contact technical support thanks to a WiFi tether with my phone and began the long, frustrating journey of explaining the issue to an over-burdened tech.
It must be your computer, have you tried turning it off and back on?
I even tried the “shibboleet” shortcut, but that didn’t help. A technical explanation of the packet loss I was experiencing across all of my devices, however, bumped me to a second-level tech.
They informed me it was an issue on their end, reset my ONT (Optical Network Terminal), and wished me well.
Two hours later, my network failed again. Back to the drawing board. This time, the third level tech informed me it was an issue with my router. He’s shipping me a new one (it will be here in 5-7 days) and scheduled me for an on-site technician later next week to verify none of the lines connecting me to the data center are damaged.
Five to seven days.
For those of you who don’t know, I work from home. Having spotty Internet (when the router works, it runs for 30 seconds at a time) means I’ve been working from a WiFi tether for two days. If I weren’t on my way to Brazil, I’d be going crazy right now.
How Connected Are We?
Thankfully, I can still do the majority of my job offline. I run a local server for development, use distributed version control, and some time ago cloned all of the documentation repositories for the code tools I use. 1
Being disconnected, though, showed me just how much I depend on a network to get things done.
To keep myself focused, I listen to music and YouTube videos while I code. The constant sound helps me feel like I’m not in an empty room and keeps the talking to myself 2 to a minimum. With no network, though, there’s no YouTube. No Pandora.
I also reach out to coworkers and other developers frequently throughout the day. Getting feedback on code is super helpful to getting my job done. Sometimes I just need a rubber ducky that talks back to me. With no network, though, there’s no HipChat. No Skype. No Twitter.
I attended a team meeting on Monday from my phone. I was able to hear everyone and interact in the conversation, but I was the only one of the 15 attendees without video. I couldn’t see reactions, have yet to discover what our 2 new team members look like, and felt like I was interrupting every time I spoke because I was missing visual cues that conversations were continuing without me.
Try having an in-person discussion with your eyes closed. That’s about how being the only non-video attendee in a video conference feels. It was a mind-blowing experience.
The Internet is not a Given
I work online, so I have a tendency to take “online” for granted. Games are online, education is online, entertainment is online, community is online. But once the cable connecting me to online is forcibly severed, I feel left adrift.
I frequently unplug on purpose to enjoy the outdoors away from technology; but that’s a conscious choice. When connectivity is taken away by forces outside my control, it leaves a void. There’s no way for me to communicate what happened and why I’m absent from meetings. No way for me to check on messages from the rest of the team to ensure our projects are still on track.
I can live without the Facebooks, Twitters, and YouTubes of the world – but the HipChats? The Gmails? These are absolutely indispensable to the way I communicate with others; cutting those lines of communication is akin to slapping duct tape on my mouth then asking me to give a presentation.
I realized this week just how dependent on networking I’ve become, and it terrifies me.