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Boston Weather: 40.0°F | Fair

COLUMN

Connected At 42.6 kbps

Akshay Patil

“It’s freezing!” my sister exclaims as she draws her jacket around her and hurriedly zips up her jacket.

I give her a look.

“Ok! So maybe I’m just a little bit spoilt!”

It’s around 60 degrees Fahrenheit here in Southern California ... needless to say, I’m in a t-shirt and sandals. My younger sister, however, is wearing shoes and, as mentioned earlier, a jacket. Wuss.

Not that I’m really one to talk; what low tolerance my sister has for cold, I easily surpass when it comes to Internet speeds. To me, a trip home means warm weather, beautiful ocean views, and Internet at the speed of glacier movement. When you’re at MIT, you miss home; when you’re home, you miss ... your computer and Ethernet connection.

Going home to a dialup modem is as close to roughing it as I’d ever like to go, where “roughing it” is defined as being without one of the following items: a toilet or Internet connection.

Have you ever tried to light a fire in the wilderness? Well, that’s what it’s like trying to connect to the Internet on a dial-up. The failed attempts, the false starts, the frustration ... it’s all there. Thursday morning, I had to press the Earthlink “Connect” button five times before I got a successful, roaring data stream. Now that’s persistence for you; there’s nothing like physically starting up the connection in the morning to make you feel like a real man. I even had to re-type our password each time I tried to connect because the “save password” function refused to work. And some people say I’m out of touch with nature.

You know how your parents sometimes talk of what it was like before the Internet? Do you know what you’re going to tell your children about the “old days?”

“You kids these days, you don’t know what it was like. Back in my time, we had to connect to the internet every time we wanted to do something. I swear ... we had these things called ‘modems’ and they used to make this noise when they connected: ‘Chhhhhhhhhh! Chhhhhhhhhh! Eeunk! Eeunk! Beeeeeep!’”

“You’re so silly Dad! They only have modems in the Tech Museum now!”

I feel old just thinking about it.

It’s hard to believe that there was a time when “carbon copy” was more than the little “cc:” under the “to:” field. That’s right, back in those days they didn’t have “blind carbon copies.” They were simpler, more wholesome times.

Yup, there used be times where “spam” meant “nasty compressed meat” and nothing else. Times when people at parties exchanged telephone numbers, not e-mail addresses. Times when nobody in the course of their day ever had to press the “shift” and “2” key on their keyboard at the same time.

Those days are long gone. Now we live in a digital age; an age where even car envy has been replaced by the ever rampant computer envy:

“So I hear you have a mean machine.”

“Yup, I have a souped up Dell.”

“Ohhh, what model?”

“Dimension.”

“What kind of speeds do you get with that baby?”

“You know ... 1.1-1.2 GHz ... 1.4 if I over-clock her. She’s got dual Pentium 4 processors and 1024MB of RDRAM.”

“Wow, that must have set you back a bit.”

“That it did, got me a 128MB video card too. Oh, and did I mention the 120GB hard drive?”

“Bestill my beating heart.”

“Also decided to go with the 23 inch flat panel cinematic display -- 1920x1200 resolution of course.”

“Air! I need air!”

And let’s not get started on instant messenger. I remember the days where talking to your friends over the Internet was the geekiest thing in the world. Now my parents are IMing me. That’s when you know instant messaging has become the communication standard. Forget exchanging phone numbers; if you really want to hit on someone, ask for their screen name. Maybe if you two get a bit cozy, you can set up screen names for just the two of you. There’s nothing more romantic than a special screen name for that special someone.

For god’s sake, people, get a chat-room.

So to all the lovely ladies out there, I may only have a 800Mhz AMD Athlon with 30GB hard-drive space, but I make up for it with my 19-inch flat-screen monitor. Please direct all messages of hunkering love to <patil@mit.edu>.