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“Always On”

I had no idea how wasteful I had been. For use: Friday, March 25, 2001 hed: “Always On” dek: I had no idea how wasteful I had been. by Michael Finley

Have you ever had that dream where you suddenly remember you signed up seven years ago for a long-term Polish language class and the final exam is Saturday and you missed every class and your career and psychic well-being require that you ace the test?

Or have you ever gotten the water bill and discovered that, without your knowing it, the garden faucet has been gushing water into the side yard that you haven’t gone out into since the day the meter was last checked and you now owe the board of water commissioners $1,934.52?

It’s the actor’s nightmare, named after that awful sensation emanating from your duodenum when you wake up and a spotlight is shining in your eyes and you are dressed in a black leotard and buskin and you realize you have to spend the next two hours and 45 minutes faking your way through Hamlet. “I say thee nay, good mother, my queen, you slut.”

I had it bad this past week, when I got an e-mail from my ISP, informing me that I have been online basically nonstop for the past four years, which is in violation of my contract, which says I have to log off whenever I’m not using the Internet, and the difference between what I signed up for and what I took is the difference between four years at $20 per month and four years at $70 per month.

Do the math with me, folks: 4 times 50 times 12 equals $2,400. That’s more than the busted faucet cost.

What can I say, I’m guilty as charged. I had no idea I wasn’t allowed to pitch my tent online and hang out there for months at a time, whether I was conscious or not, whether I was sitting at my computer or absently strumming my ukulele on a hayride 100 miles away. “And it was Daisy … Daisy …”

Many’s the night after a long day of uploads and downloads that I would yawn, rise up from my machine and drift downstairs to bed, leaving that little “connected” icon–the one that looks like two computer monitors are doing it–blinking in the lower right corner of the screen, to sleep, perchance to dream.

Basically, it was every night, unless my system crashed, or I was leaving town for two weeks. Who wants to dial up every time they want to know the latest baloney on the Drudge Report? It takes about 30 seconds. That’s enough time to drum your fingers a few times, think about what you have to do that day, and still forget you’re not connected yet and try to fetch your e-mail.

Don’t give me that look. You know you’ve done it too.

I certainly understand the price discrepancy. Staying connected, day in, day out, for years at a time. It’s like taking a really long, really hot shower when you know three other people are lined up behind you. Or sipping milk from a gallon bottle, then glugging the remainder down the drain.

It’s like wearing all the clothes you own all the time, even to a funeral. It’s like leaving the car running at the curb all winter long, so it will always be warmed up.

It’s piggish, and thoughtless, and vile, and I feel the reproach of the digitally homeless, as they rebuke me with those wide brown eyes they all have, for squandering that which they don’t have any of at all.

Sorry about that.

From now on, I’m going to be good. I swear.

At the same time, does it really make sense to shut down to make a sandwich?

Michael Finley also writes Diversions monthly for ComputerUser magazine.

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