Usually, once in our lives, if not more than once, there's a sentence that flutters out of our mouths without a hesitation. People have uttered this sentence in all cases of need, where they wanted something really badly but they felt as if that new book would enhance their lives or that video game would make the winter bearable or this movie would help with bringing the family together. So people say it, feeling like they really mean what they say,
It's the sentence, "I need that."
A dictionary has many definitions for the word need. Until October, when I decided to take up a challenge by a friend to not use any Internet for a whole month, I didn't really understand what I needed or even why I needed it.
In September 2014, the sun speckled the ground with bursts of bright light even though the weather was cold in Chicago. I was sitting in a park with an engineer friend of mine, stealing his fries as we talked about the internship that I applied for but didn't make. The topic nestled into the internship miss until, suddenly, he blurted out an exclamation of "oh my god, Robbie, you have GOT to read this!"
And so I did, or rather, listened, having limited vision and everything. It was an article that said that killing net neutrality would help the disabled. Verizon was saying that, if the Internet were split into a fast lane and a slow lane, disabled people would have much better Internet. Naturally, the irony wasn't lost on me. In most cases, no matter how politically correct people wanted me to be ever since I started saying it, a good portion of the disabled populace were very poor, so the idea Verizon had was just utter nonsense.
"That's a complete fallacy!" I spluttered, shifting my weight so my good eye could stare at Marcus full on in the face. "That's just plain wrong!"
"I know," he agreed, but we ranted and raved about for a bit, just to make sure our thoughts were out in the open. Suddenly, though, as I was stealing a fry, he commented, "I have an idea. Why don't I give you a challenge, you know, like a dare?" I liked the prospect of a dare so I accepted his challenge before having the intellect to ask what it was.
"Why don't you, as a disabled person, live without the Internet for one month, and this means using Internet in schools and in libraries and the like, don't use the Internet at all for one month."
And that's how it began.
The challenge began Oct. 1. The night before, I uninstalled the components that my laptop needs to connect to the web and I was soon swept up in a different world, a world that was inaccessible to me and a world that I had to learn how adapt to, on my own since I live in an apartment complex by myself. I really did learn the difference between needing something and wanting the convenience of something.
I assumed I was going to do the everyday things that people did, such as walk outside, even though it was starting to get cold in Chicago. I thought my entries were going to be filled with sentences outlining what I did, rather than what I'd think about this whole thing. I thought that I'd write more about what I did and why I did it, rather than my thoughts and observations about the Internet-less life. Still, I wrote down every observation I had, and things that happened to me ... and, opinions.
Living offline changed me in many ways that I didn't even see coming. For the first few days, I needed to get online, I wanted to look up something. I wanted to type in the commands and the search strings that would get me exactly what I wanted, how I wanted it, where I wanted it. Without that power, for a few days, I was utterly lost because I didn't know how to cope after that power had been taken away.
Even though I felt as though I was going to back down on the first few days, I gave it a shot still, and kept on with the challenge.
The fact is, the Internet is a requirement, especially for the disabled. I experienced much frustration simply because I could no longer do something so basic, such as hooking up a landline phone because I couldn't download the manual from the website. I had to rely on the sighted population more than I have ever needed to.
This, in turn, though, forced me to adapt differently and to develop new kinds of trust in people. In a way, I was back to a dependent state so I had to figure out how to craft my own independence.
This is because there isn't as much accessible information offline as there is on the Internet. On the Internet I can look up any news I want to look up or any manual, for that matter. Take news content: Writers are not filtered by space and advertising columns so they can pepper the Web page with in-depth reporting and I could read it all.
Mainstream offline media doesn't tell you about all the news that's happening or the kind of topics people want to know. The fact is, people want to know. On the radio and TV everything is delegated by space and time. When you have limited options to get information, information becomes a need, not a luxury. I had to cope with losing that by asking more questions from other people and relying on their answers. Sometimes, it was effective.
I noticed, though, that I was getting a lot more things done. Without links to jump to I had a huge attention span. I would write more articles in a day than I ever did while online, but that's because I couldn't look at a distracting factor such as email or Twitter.
I also found that I had improved my conversation skills. Take dating. In my journal, I talked about Travis, a dashing boy, and how he and I met on a bus and grew to know each other through long phone conversations. I think the Internet tries to define so many people in such few characters but it just can't. Still, people believe that what they read on Facebook and Twitter is the whole package when it's not. I learned that someone could say something and mean it a totally different way all the time, without the need to add an emoticon to their sentences. I learned that getting to know someone via the phone is much better than dating online, for instance, because it's like listening to an unpublished audiobook of that person's diary. I asked questions and listened to stories, and learned many things through progression rather than learning everything at once. This was much better.
We live, however, in a world that needs the Internet. I learned that the hard way last month when I didn't get hired for a job because I couldn't use the Internet. It really has shocked me how it's turned into an unclassified utility. Sure, apartment owners are saying it is a utility but not the government, not the people higher up. It should be. Why? Because I know what it's like, as a disabled person, to live without the Internet for one month. A disabled life without Internet is not a completely independent world. The Internet breaks down barriers, even if we can't see them.