Weekly Thoughts 14

The final two lists (best films and albums) will be released later this week, but for now the continuation of my weekly thoughts.

Internet as a Human Right

A few weeks back (before the endlessness of holidays and the best of mania took a hold of my life) I wrote about my experience with Time Warner Cable and the weird sort of power that we may now have as consumers and internet users. I promised to write more about that and I plan on doing so now, but first I wanted to give an update to that story.

While I was at McDonald’s, using internet for the cost of a burger and a drink (large, because all their drinks are the same price!), I chatted with a representative who kindly told me I should be able to change my appointment and even gave me a number I could use to get an earlier one. When I called their helpline an automated machine told me that there were several appointments available days before the one they had previously told me. So in the end, TWC helped me out, but only in the light of unnecessary incompetence.

I digress. During my week and a half no internet time I was forced to spend a lot of time in public places using Wi-Fi from places like Starbucks and McDonald’s. The crowds occupying these places were often college students, but there would also be groups of people who would spend hours there that seemed to be homeless. This got me thinking about the ways internet has become so prevalent in our lives and what happens when we no longer have access to it.

For me personally every day life became a hassle, not only was it much more boring, but tasks that I needed to complete after having just moved became difficult if not impossible. Figuring out who I needed to call and what I needed to do was exponentially harder without the assistance of the internet. Now I understand that plenty of people get by without the internet on a daily basis and don’t use Google as a crutch to solve their every problem like I have, but this is starting to become a rarity and I am becoming the norm.

A few years back I read an argument that access to free or cheap Wi-Fi should be considered a human right. In light of my experiences I am wondering if this is not correct and if indeed policies should be put into place to allow people access to good internet use. Now obviously policy is an ever complex thing and throwing together something like this would be complicated; not to mention the businesses would have a fit. But if people are becoming like me and inevitably these people become poor or homeless and no longer have access to internet, their disadvantage will increase, perhaps even to a point where there is no coming back.

Internet allows access to information and it does so easily. Having easier access to information allows one to get things done quicker and when time is freed up it offers more potential for other beneficial tasks, whether that be working more, taking care of kids, or simply finding time to rest. Without internet things become elongated and more difficult to do. If somebody is stressing out because they’ve just been fired from their job and are trying to find work, but can no longer afford internet and have to seek out job through more difficult avenues, they are being put at a bigger disadvantage than another person looking for a job with internet. This will only increase as the web is more and more relied on for more things.

There are places where Wi-Fi is accessible for free or low costs. The public library is a great place, one where I would take refugees to get set up and try to figure out how they were going to make it in America. I have to say, the computers at the library are the absolute worst. They are impossibly slow and so inept that it is almost not worth it to use them at all. Other public areas where you pay for food to get Wi-Fi are nice, though certainly more difficult than home use (no surprise there). All these are lacking.

Getting by in this world is going to require some sort of internet functionality and those who go without will be just as bad off as those without residences or health services. There is no easy way to solve this and proposing government paid internet services is admittedly silly sounding at this point, but I think this is a conversation we need to start pondering and taking seriously. Maybe city-wide Wi-Fi will be the first to come, giving people who can find a way to use it the ability to do so, even though it will assuredly be slower than slow. Maybe charities can begin to offer free or cheap internet cafes that offer assistance in finding needed services. These sorts of creative solutions should begin to be brainstormed now before the problem hits full fledged and we have large groups of people with no idea how to live without the internet, yet have no capacity to use it.