By now, wireless internet access is practically ubiquitous in our planet’s largest metropolitan areas. Sure, we might be charged exorbitant rates for connectivity, but it’s at least theoretically possible to jack in. The real problem is the lack of electricity for our portable devices. During your next round of holiday travel, count the number of people clutching laptops, iPods, and cell phones. Where are they clustering? Why aren’t they smiling? Did you really just see a 19-year-old woman push an elderly man out of the way in order to grab the last shred of carpet near the power plug?
Restaurants and coffee shops announce free wireless internet, but their promotions say nothing about power supply. Although T-mobile, AT&T, and Cingular love to brag about their hot spots, they’ve failed to make sure that their affiliated institutions can actually provide the necessary infrastructure. For example, at my local diner, the only public outlet is located in the bowels of the busboy section. Refusing to be deterred, I’ve attached an extension cord to my laptop in order to access the sweet flow of charged particles. Every afternoon, I carefully snake the cord from my booth over the section divider, between the napkin and silverware trays, alongside the stack of menus, around the jam, behind the coffee pot, and down the wall to the juicy outlet.
Mishaps are inevitable. The wait staff occasionally stumbles, and the inconvenient positioning of my cable just might have been responsible for the incident in which Betty tripped and hurled a plate of chicken-fried steak at a table of San Antonio policemen. But let’s not jump to conclusions. After all, Betty has always been an accident-prone waitress. Because she sprained her ankle when she fell, her clumsiness has only worsened during the past few weeks. Lest you think me heartless, I should note that Betty’s injured ankle troubles me deeply. I’m worried that she’ll trip again, spilling a bottle of cold Shiner on my keyboard.
Of course I’m not alone in my vampiric hunger for the digital life-force. Last weekend, while flying from Texas to California, I saw an affluent hipster trade a roomy first-class seat for a cramped spot located next to a DC outlet. Judging by the look of glazed obsession in his eyes, he would have been just as happy camped out on the wing of the plane.
What’s that? Are you rolling your eyes?
Apparently, you have not been paying attention to the dream of wireless digital freedom that advertisers have promised us for years. From the pages of Vogue to the glossy photos in Details, the dream is always the same: Rugged men check spreadsheets on their PDAs while scaling the side of Half Dome. Stunningly beautiful women revise the final chapters of their novel as they float down the Amazon River in a bamboo canoe. Bohemian professionals submit creative pitches to their clients while paragliding off the coast of Mexico.
Who wouldn’t want to live such a life? And why isn’t it available now? Surely, there are no technical barriers to delivering power to every person who needs it. We have plenty of resources, but we lack the political will to make the necessary changes.
Really, the laptop-power distribution question is analogous to the problems of homelessness and world hunger. It’s just that the laptop thing is far more important. After all, there are at least two dozen organizations trying to help the 3.5 billion humans who live in grinding poverty. Who will speak up for the yuppies?
Some cynics might argue that there is something oddly poetic about the plight of moderately affluent Americans desperately grubbing for electricity at the same time that the U.S. military has been deployed to strategically important oil-producing regions.
Such small-minded critics might also suggest that global consumer cyberculture is erecting its virtual utopias on a foundation of depleted oil wells, strip-mined forests, and nuclear power plants.
But these claims are patently ridiculous. Right?
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