June 9, 2021
Last week, I attended the practice run of a webinar hosted by a group I volunteer with. I was invited because I didn’t know anything, which in this case isn’t an insult: my professional expertise is in translating scientific stories for a lay audience.
For reasons I won’t go into, I had to visit the local library to access wi-fi for this event. My town is still in the process of cautiously reopening, which meant I couldn’t sit inside. But the librarians have kindly placed their router near the parking lot. The weather was more clement back then, so I drove up in my “mobile office”, rolled the windows down, and was able to get a decent signal. (To their credit, the others on the call didn’t find this the least bit unusual.)
It was downhill from there. I hadn’t charged my laptop before leaving the house, so I had to politely turn off my camera and go to sit by an outdoor plug. This lasted exactly two minutes before the group of people a few feet away started talking loudly. They had every right to do so, and I had every right to march back to my car (the battery wasn’t as low as I’d worried).
Next came a train, which rendered me deaf as it moved through town. A few minutes later, a lawn mower started up — seemingly just to annoy me, as the grass seemed well trimmed already. By the end of the talk, I was flushed with shame at being subject to these vagaries of town life. Why couldn’t I just be normal and have my own working router?
After the webinar, I retreated to a cafe that typically has great wi-fi but happened to be having issues at the time. This was a minor annoyance compared to the earlier ones. I accepted my fate and found other work to do, eventually closing my computer so I could enjoy a perfect June morning. But the man sitting one table over was not so calm.
He was polite but annoyed as he asked me what was going on. Written on his face was disbelief at the idea that one could lose access to the Internet for a single minute. He made a comment about my town and what he saw as its backwardness. He didn’t know or care that I choose to live here; neither would he understand if I tried to explain why.
I’m happy to say that I now see my morning at the library in a new light. Not only can I adapt to less-than-ideal situations, but I can accept them with no real change to my blood pressure. And I don’t need a computer to forge meaningful connections with the people and the place around me.