Digital to Analog – 21st Century Rationing

Maybe you’ve felt this too, I don’t know.

You’re facetiming some friends who are far away, maybe across the country like ours were, in Washington.

While speaking to them, suddenly they speak very fast, the audio rushing to catch up, before bounding back and appearing on the other side of the spectrum very slow and difficult to follow. Even though they didn’t mean to, you feel insulted, like you are a foreign speaker and your friend is helping you with your latte order.

Rubber banding was common in our facetime in the midday between 3:30 and 5:00. I wish it could say that it stopped there, but that would not be the case. Castbox, the app where we get our staple podcasts, was giving us a hard time as we tried to download This Podcast Will Kill You’s very informative series on COVID-19. Zoom meetings with my students have gotten blurry. YouTube videos that I make or watch have dipped slightly in quality.

Is this a problem with the internet? For years, Susan Crawford has called for a change to how internet has been provided in the United States. Countries like South Korea and Singapore offer internet speeds much higher than us and for a fraction of the cost. Our reliance on only a few Internet Service Providers has led to a monopoly grinding to a halt much innovation and the spread of fiber internet: powerful lines of bandwidth that are carried by light riding on glass. It sounds like the future.

Unfortunately, according to this article by Vox, the problem may be just that, where American business has access to fiber internet, but the typical consumers like us have a “last mile” problem, meaning that the trip to your house or apartment may have fiber, but that short connecting distance to residences is still based on cable broadband. And that is where the internet bottleneck happens.

So the overall internet will be fine, but like everything else in America, it is the citizen who will have to adapt.

One of the small ways I’ve been adapting is to use cloud based tools, which apparently do fine and can scale appropriately to consumer demand. I have assigned tasks to be done on Google Docs and Google Forms, and because I am fortunate as an English teacher, that is really all I need.

There are those families, however, who have multiple people accessing the internet all at once. The parent is playing FIFA 2020 on the Xbox, maybe online, and the oldest student is facetiming friends or a teacher for class. The younger sister is watching Frozen II, and the two younger brothers are fighting over the last television. The mother is checking her phone to see if she can create a curbside pickup order at Central Market. The internet at that house, under that much higher demand, is going to face a problem.

Much like World War II, the word “rationing” has come up in my mind as a way to think about the problem. Austerity can sometimes be used as a way for typical people to use less so that larger companies and industries can gobble up more. No, this is something that we face out of necessity because our homes do not have fiber. In the future, hopefully we’ll remember this and demand more of our internet service providers: we’ll break up the monopolies which, according to Scott Galloway, should have happened a long time ago. For now, we’ll have to make do.

Trading off internet time at home is something to either actually discuss, or keep implicitly as a rule. For me, the internet rationing has more to do with my own sanity. I simply cannot indulge in the internet for too long before the outdoors calls. Reading on a kindle outside is the closest any of us get to a Disney vacation at the moment, so we might as well enjoy it. I pulled weeds for the first time living at this house! That is four years worth of time I need to make up.

If not to save the internet at your home for those who need it too, consider rationing the internet for your own psyche. Read a book, or download your articles or podcasts to experience later. Write on paper, draw something. Play games offline. When you facetime, or when you Discord and play games, go big.

But make sure you let your family know, yea?

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