Friday, April 3, 2015

Reflections About Being Off the Grid (or, How to Get Internet in a New Housing Development)

Greetings from the middle of our long, long weekend. Brendan and I have today and Monday off for Easter, plus we both have Thursdays off this semester, so this made for a glorious five day break! I'll do a post about what we're getting up to this weekend later. 

For now, I am writing from my computer in our living room because this afternoon, we finally got high speed internet and joined the rest of the 21st century. It was an involved process that took over two months. I want to reflect a little about what life was like "off the grid" and also talk about how we finally got internet. 

First, How to Get Internet in a New Housing Development

When we first moved here on January 31st, we were really surprised to find that no companies offered high speed internet...all that was available was dish or satellite, which was expensive (we're talking over $100 per month), limited (they would slow down your service if you used too much data), and required a two year contract. No thanks! 

I discovered that the reason the better companies weren't out here is because they needed a big financial incentive to lay the groundwork for the internet. I began to call and call and call the company...joining in with my neighbors, we flooded the company with about twenty phone calls per day. Finally, I guess we convinced them we'd make it worth their time because they made plans to install the fiber optic cables in the neighborhood. We were told to expect service by the end of February. We were happy, but things didn't turn out as planned. Our area experienced so many freezes that it slowed down everything. I called in early March and no one at the company headquarters in a different city seemed to have any idea what was going on. There was an office here, but it had no phone number. I made plans to drive there one afternoon, and I almost got lost because it was at the edge of the city limits. It was worth the trip though! Once there, I met a construction coordinator for the project, and I made sure to get his business card. That would prove to come in handy. 

Last Thursday, a flyer was left on our door for the company, advertising that their services were now available. Relieved to no longer be taking grading trips to Starbucks, we called Friday and scheduled an install for Monday. Over the weekend, we noticed the company installing wires in our alley. We thought we were set to go, but no. On Monday, the techs were an hour late and told us we couldn't get internet because we didn't have a conduit. I asked to talk to their supervisor, called him from one of the tech's phones and explained our situation. I got his contact info and a promise he would stay on our case, which was another important step. I then left a note on the front door giving the techs permission to access the backyard, so that we would not miss them if we happened to not be home. 

I called the construction coordinator that I met two weeks prior and told him about the situation. I called him for updates on Tuesday and Wednesday. Finally, yesterday morning, we got our conduit. I rescheduled our install for this afternoon. It turned out things still weren't done. I was told we needed someone to come splice the cables. I called the supervisor from Monday who sent someone last night to splice the cables. This literally took another hour, though I have no idea why. Finally, today, we have high speed internet. The tech that came to our house told me the previous four houses were lacking conduits and could not get internet today. I know the reason we got our service before others that have been here longer is because I got contact information for people that knew what was going on and kept bothering them. 

So to reiterate: 1.) Partner with neighbors to flood the company with requests for service, 2.) Get phone numbers for local people involved in the project. 3.) Schedule (and reschedule) your install appointments for the earliest possible dates 4.) Make sure you get cables, a conduit, and splicing. 5.) Continue to call and call and call. Leave a note with permission to access your backyard for when you leave the house. 

And Now, Reflections From Off the Grid 

We went 62 days without home internet. Which meant we went to Starbucks, a lot, and we used my phone for internet all. the. time. 

Here is what we learned:

1.) Not having the internet is super inconvenient: say goodbye to working from home in your pajamas. However: 
2.) We also learned that we waste a LOT of time on the internet. Without the internet, we were forced to get work done more quickly because if we had only two hours at Starbucks, we had to grade papers then, and we couldn't goof off. This lead to us being a LOT more productive and using our time in ways we liked better. For instance, we read a lot more books. 
3.) People at Starbucks are not respectful to those trying to work. They will just start talking, and they won't stop. Bring headphones! 
4.) We missed Netflix, but we started using the discs, which we had been paying for but never using. It was nice to see some things we couldn't see streaming. It was also nice to not be addicted to any show on Netflix. Again, we had more time, and we didn't waste time choosing what to watch. 
5.) We missed the internet for googling the answers to all of our questions. We missed being able to access recipes easily. We also went over my family plan data cap on the phone. I missed not being able to chat with friends, but I also realized that I wasn't procrastinating on work. I experienced a definite withdraw period in the first week. If you think you wouldn't, try it. It's surprising. 
6.) I looked at Facebook less, and I didn't really miss it. I blogged less, which I did miss. 
7.) It was annoying to not be able to pay bills, submit forms, shop online, etc. I had to schedule time into my day to do all these things. I shopped less though, so that was good! 
8.) I often did not check work email after 2:00pm. And you know what happened? Nothing. I realized very few people even contact me after 2:00pm, and if they do, all of them can actually wait for an answer until the next day. It was really nice to not check work email so much. 
9.) We felt physically a lot better from not looking at a computer screen so much. We really liked that we weren't on the computer before bed. I watched the nightly news to feel more connected to the world, then we would get in bed and read for 20-30 minutes before turning off the lights. We love the new routine and fall asleep more easily. 
10.) This is the most surprising: In some ways, not having the internet increased our happiness. 
WHAT?! It was so inconvenient, how could we be happier? Well, before, I guess we were lacking balance. We just overused the internet. With not having internet, we were more likely to do things we liked better than sitting on the computer. We did a lot around the house, which was really fulfilling. 

So, now that we have internet, we plan to use it in the following ways: 
Working without procrastinating. We like to set a time limit and work (grade) the entire time. 
I'll go back to my old habit of checking work email at 5pm Monday-Friday and not checking it after that. I will also not check on weekends. It's good to have a break. 
Using it for activities we enjoy like blogging or reading the news.
Watching Netflix.
Essentials like bill pay.

We plan to avoid the following: 
Being on the internet just to be on it. Facebook & chatting are fun every once in a while, but they don't add much to our happiness. I like checking Facebook in the morning and leaving it at that. 
Internet shopping--it doesn't need to happen because we need to save our money! If we know something we want,  like plane tickets, that's different, but I hope my days of browsing just to see if I like something at a store are over. 
Being on the computer after doesn't need to happen. It's easier to go to sleep without doing that, and we like our reading routine far better. 

So, in the end, I call this 62 day experiment educational. It was kind of annoying, but, in some ways, I'm glad that we had this reality check to show us it is important to really think about our net usage. 

Do you use the internet, abuse the internet, or some of both? 

We hope this gave you something to think about. 

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