Back in a Bit

Broadening the band

“What?!” people would cry, almost physically recoiling with shock, “you’re still using dial-up?!”. The thing was, I liked my deliberately crippled little internet. I liked the fact that the web didn’t play music at me or coax me into filling hard-drive after hard-drive with media files. I liked the fact that only the good things worked: the fast, efficient, lean and mean things flew in while the bloated crap stayed away. But most of all, I liked the fact that the internet was something that went on somewhere else: I wasn’t surfing so much as spectating, and I could pull the plug as I wished.

I think the real problem was that I liked the thinternet too much, and I spent more and more time using it. But, with the passing of time, it “improved” (as in: got more and more bloated until became unusable). So, I wasn’t simply spending time doing more things, I was spending more time doing things. I can’t remember exactly what it was that provoked it but, one morning in late spring, I snapped. I needed bandwidth, and fast.

There was the minor complication of not having an awful lot of money. I had been out of full-time work over a year and, while I was reasonably confident that I could somehow scrape together the funds each month, I knew there was no way I’d ever get the idea past my better half. I knew she’d be devastatingly sensible: she’d veto a broadband installation straight away and wouldn’t reconsider. Damn this woman and her sound fiscal planning! I bet if I wanted to invest the same monthly sum into her bloody shoe collection there’d be no such objection. Then, all at once, an idea began to form. It was all simply a question of presentation. Of course! It was so obvious! I rang her at work straight away.

“I’ve ordered you cable TV!” I announced proudly. What a kind and loving partner I am. “Hmm?” she replied: her standard response when I have that “bright idea” tone of voice. She knows exactly what I’ve said, but wants me to explain it in such detail that I realise how stupid a suggestion it is. “Cable television, like your mother’s got. With that animal channel you like.” I hadn’t intended to play the animal channel card so early, but at that moment it seemed to be the only card I was holding. Fortunately for me, it worked: she continued to listen while I explained how we could afford it, and while I quietly tagged on the fact that we could also get broadband into the deal.

Of course, a week later when the engineers came to install everything, the broadband wouldn’t work. The bloody animal channel would work, wouldn’t it? Oh yes. And the phone line I had to buy in order to get the broadband connection—of course it did. The beautiful, crushing irony of my devious plot coming back to punish me was just unbearable. I was climbing the walls. Three weeks; over five hours of phone calls; six further visits from engineers; and one mother-of-all-angry-letters later, my band was finally broadened.

The leap from 33.1Kb/s to 2Mb/s was, initially, delicious: for the first half-hour I marvelled at how the images on sites like K10k loaded within the same season as the words. However, you soon come to realise that, in all fairness, the web just isn’t very fast: it’s not the fault of the infrastructure (at least, not all the time), it’s just that the thing becomes more and more and more bloated and overblown. Still, Google isn’t too shabby. It’s about as quick on broadband today as it was on dial-up five years ago. But that’s just the thing: broadband is sold as “next generation”, but it isn’t really adding anything to what I had before. In effect, it’s just allowing me to do things I’ve always done, as quickly as I could do them half a decade ago—and yet I’m paying considerably more now than I did then. I guess I’ll always be narrowband at heart.

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