Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How Internet Made Me Homeless.

Forgive me if I seem to be babbling about my new home a tad too much. It is almost three times as spacious as my previous home, I have a roommate I am pally with, and the view outside the window is breathtaking. One look outside and all I see is the lush greenery, the bikers biking and the sports enthusiasts jogging. There is no insane noise of the traffic outside. Lots of storage space in every nook and corner of the house. What else could someone like me want?

Yet I have literally been homeless the last few days. To be specific, I do not go home at nights like good children do to cook a decent meal and then to go to bed watching a movie.

Instead, the walls of my lab in the department have been seeing me almost every night now.

I do not claim to be a great researcher, the next best thing on the earth after Einstein. No, I have not been burning the midnight oil either.

The reason is simple. Internet has not yet been set up at my new home !

Now this seemed absurd and ridiculous to my mom, whose voice was coated with the “What's going on? Are you crazy?” suspicion. Welcome to the US mom.

Even a few years ago in India, internet use was restricted to chatting with unknown people called “cool dude 2000” or “friendly hunk from Bombay”. Checking emails came next, but then again, so few people among friends and relatives were net savvy that there were not many people you could expect emails from. This was back in the early 2000s.

Then I was about to graduate, and internet saw a new use for me. I was applying to various schools in the US and soon I was browsing the websites of various institutes. The Google search engine seemed like a magic word for me then, and it was marvelous how putting a simple word like “recipe for chicken curry” got so many results. I remember I would often browse the website for the Indian Armed Forces, marveling at the men and women who made it there. But then, these needs could be easily fulfilled in a couple of hours in the evening, and that is what I usually did every alternate day on my way back from college. The nearest café “Cyber World” soon started to charge a whooping Rs.20/hour after he installed air conditioning. Thus I would walk two bus stops off the route to go to a café that charged Rs.10/hour for a membership, and did not boast of an air conditioner. The walls were damp, only one out of the seven computers had a webcam, and one would usually wait for 30 minutes during peak hours to find a place. We had a computer at home by that time. But it was strictly used for making word documents and excel spreadsheets. The floppy had seemed the only magic window as the link to the world of the internet then. For I would download information, save it on the floppy, and later watch it at home. Someone convinced my dad that getting an internet connection would only make the home computer prone to virus infections. Dad must have thought that it was a real virus and declared, No net at home! The chapter was closed.

Post-masters, I decided to apply to US schools. People who have been on the same track would know that it takes browsing all day on the net to select the schools and garner information till you finally dozed off on the computer. It is not that it is not doable in a cyber café, but it is so very convenient at home. It took me months of convincing dad that I would be browsing for information and not chatting with random “cool dude 2001”s (I was out of the habit of using Yahoo Messenger by that time anyway). He finally consented to take the internet connection at home.

But then again, mom would be very curious about what I did all day in front of the computer, squinting with a notebook on my lap. I was taking online GRE tutorials, finding information about the US schools I would apply to, finding online SOPs to take a look at, and so on. I don’t blame mommy for wondering how would people “in their times” make it to the US without the internet. Even I wondered that.

All this while, neither mom or dad were very net savvy. Dad would check emails and type replies very slowly, make spreadsheets, and that’s about it. Mom was even scared to start the computer.
When I came to the US, the internet life took a very different role. I had a university net id now and I was soon to realize that it was no fancy stuff to mail others in India from and get them wondering- “Wow, you have a net id that says something something dot edu”. My friends from IIT had those ids, and I had been jealous !

Anyway, here people use the internet as a substitute for telephones or personal meetings. Appointments are fixed and rescheduled, profs inform us about classes and their office hours, and every conversation possible happens through the official emails. People sitting side by side would be emailing each other about the orientation dinner they were going to. And it made sense in a way because that way there were records of all the conversations. We did everything online now, saw timetables and course websites, sent emails, browsed text books and e journals, booked air flights, bought laptops and mp3 players, ordered stuff, borrowed books and DVDs from the library, booked library rooms for group discussions, etc. Everything you could think of was being done online.

I was calling less frequently and emailing my folks more. I was sending my pics. I was chatting with them using Gtalk (by this time, my mom had transformed herself to a super mom who could start the computer and do simple stuff like send emails or connect to the webcam on messenger). I was showing my folks my home using the webcam. She would see the new dress I bought or the new drapes I had picked at a garage sale. Everything was being done online now.

Sometimes I wonder if research could be possible without the net. I was looking for papers, corresponding with the profs, digging up data and statistics, all with a click. Unlike 5 years ago when emails were checked once in seven days, I was checking emails once in 10 minutes. BBQ party, what to wear? Come and pick me at 8:30. Get some pineapple ice cream with you. All these one-line instructions were being sent through emails checked in between work. No, I would not say it was being checked in between work in a hushed hushed way, away from the glances of others. Checking emails and replying to them was a part of work now.

When I shifted to my new home, I almost suffered from acute depression the one day I spent without the internet. The internet guy would not be available to set up things for the next 7 days now. Seven days without uninterrupted internet? Enough.

Every night after dinner, I pack my bags, toothbrush and all, and come to the department. I browse through the internet for as long as I can, the earphones plugged in my ears while I happily listen to music. Sometimes when I am in no mood for work, I YouTube. Watch a movie. Read blogs. Write blogs. If nothing works, I read scraps. And then I sleep on the couch in the department. If I crave for some caffeine at the middle of work, I go get myself a coke or a bar of chocolate from the wending machine. And while I walk through the empty corridors at night, my hands thrust in my pockets, my footsteps echoing, I tell myself- Wow, it is cool to be a grad student here. There are no safety issues as long as you are inside the building. You have the wending machine. You have the couch. You have the microwave to heat up stuff. And most importantly, you have the internet.

Unless you had a loved one waiting at home, why would you want to go home?



maxdavinci said...

When I moved to Detroit, I lived in my office for close to 10 days leaving the building at 9 only to sleep.

Can't imagine the trauma I had to undergo, literally unplugged from the world!

Lady Godiva said...

even i dont feel like goin home to no one at the end of the day... i try to go as late as i can... usually by 10:30 or so... And who would want to go home when we have the wending machines, AC's , internet everything at the workplace :-)

Adarsh said...

Ditto for me...
But since I don't have an office yet, I go home... cook dinner and fall asleep as fast as I can.
Few more days... a laptop, a phone and an internet connection later... Home will be a lot more fun place to go to :)
AMEN !!!

Shantanu said...

My cellphone and my Internet connection. Two things that I take for granted and with me wherever I travel. It feels completely wierd when one of them doesn't work. I dont know if that's a good thing, though... :-)

Philotics said...

waiting for your next dhamaka-blog!