Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Coming to Terms with an Addiction

I realized this morning that I have an addiction. It began when I came into work and discovered that our email was down for the day. At first I was fine with it. But then I started to wonder how many messages were sitting in my inbox waiting for that click of the mouse that would release them onto my screen. I buried myself in my work and tried to put them out of my mind, but I couldn’t. I found myself longing to know what Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day was, wondering if I had received a bill from Paytrust or a note from my sister, even yearning for the inevitable junk mail. By 9:30 I knew this was serious. I couldn’t stop thinking about my messages trapped in a server somewhere waiting to be downloaded and read. And I knew that since today is Friday, if I don’t read those messages before I leave work, they will be locked in that server all weekend. To make matters even worse, our Internet access was down as well, so I couldn’t get my email fix by checking my online email account. My entire routine was thrown off. Every morning I read my email, then go online to check the news. That is how I stay in touch with the outside world while I work. But today I was isolated. It was just me alone in my office. My only access to the outside world was... my telephone. How primitive. If only I had gotten that cell phone with web access. I was kicking myself now.

By 10:00 I couldn’t stand it. I opened my email program, hoping against hope that it would miraculously have been fixed, but of course it had not. Knowing I was setting myself up for disappointment, but not being able to resist, I tried to open my Internet browser. No luck there either.

As the day progressed, my isolation became more and more painful. At 11:15 I ran across a word I didn’t like in a handbook I was editing. No problem, I thought, I’ll just go to Merriam-Webster’s online thesaurus to find a suitable replacement. Not today. I had to actually brush the dust off my paper thesaurus and use it instead. At 12:03 I needed to know where the accents are in crème brûlée. It’ll be a snap. I’ll just go to Epicurious.com’s online food dictionary. But once again I was forced to use an actual paper book for my research.

As with most addictions, a person has to hit rock bottom before they will admit they have a problem. Rock bottom came for me at 1:57 p.m. PST. I wanted to check my email. I wanted my Word of the Day. I wanted to go online to see the news and look up some new words. I wanted to find out if we were in PST or PDT. I wanted to send an email to my sister to tell her I found that Georgia quarter I had been missing. I wanted to check my bank balance, dammit! I couldn’t take it anymore. I finally broke down. I had to get out the office. I raced home, ran into my house and started up the computer. I was beginning to panic as I double-clicked the Netscape button. But then I heard the familiar beeping and fuzzing of my trusty dial-up modem. What I saw on the screen were the most beautiful words I have ever read, “You have 27 new messages.” I spent my entire lunch hour reading the Apple and QuickTime newsletters, looking at a photo a friend sent and even reading through the 17 junk mail messages. No way was I going to just throw them out without reading them. Not today.

Finally, when I returned from lunch at 3:08 my email and Internet were fixed. Once again I was connected to the outside world. Now I could look up words online. I could send that email to my sister. I could check the news and do research. The world was once again a friendly place.

Now in the aftermath of this traumatic day, I must face the fact that I am an addict. I will never again take for granted the beauty of electronic communication. I will never again fool myself into thinking I can quit any time I want to. I will buy that Internet cell phone and I will read my Word of the Day every single day, which, in case you were wondering, was vulcanize.


In case you were wondering, based on the references to Netscape and a dial-up modem, this diatribe was written some years ago. It is only now that I can face up to the horror of that day.