Monthly Archives: March 2013

The opposite of cyberpunk

I am not writing this entry from a computer. This fact has caused me more than a little consternation over the past several weeks.

At the end of last semester, I unexpectedly became a sort of iPad beta tester on behalf of the Department of Learning Technologies. In keeping with my tradition of naming electronic devices, I called my new companion Jensen (after the protagonist of a certain futuristic video game you may have heard me talk about before) because it represents a sudden technological upgrade I never specifically asked for. Like all Apple products, it’s glossy and minimalistic and a certain aura of life in the future seems to hover over its glowing screen. As somebody who grew up on science fiction but has never owned much of the real-world technology that seems to be evolving to match it, the novelty of a device like this is slow to wear off.

I’d been facing a computing conundrum prior to leaving for Switzerland: my laptop is an ailing 6-year-old contraption that would not have survived getting dragged across an entire continent for half a year.  What better excuse, I thought, to take this new iPad out for a test drive?

Jensen and I were going to be unstoppable, I thought. I could take the iPad with me throughout my travels to run translation apps so I could talk to anyone, anywhere. A GPS function would be infinitely more convenient than paper maps, and could point out hotels, restaurants and espresso stands no matter where I wound up. I’d be able to chat with strangers, research local attractions, and keep myself entertained in transit (all while keeping up with my classwork, of course.) And I could record the entire experience in real-time. The possibilities were infinite: I’d become a sort of wandering techno-god, powered by prosthetic knowledge and existing in perfect symbiosis of human and machine —

Except I’d failed to consider the wireless.

See, internet access is a thing we take for granted in the States. Free wi-fi’s practically a right, with entire cities like Seattle and Denver making it accessible to the public, and 4G networks powering smartphones in the most remote locations.

Not so in Europe. Anywhere in Europe, it would seem. Our apartment here in Riva has no wi-fi, meaning I have to make pilgrimages to the villa just to check my email and wind up staying in the building for most of the day for convenience’s sake. The nearest business I can think of with publicly-accessible wi-fi is the McDonald’s in Lugano, several train stations away. Wireless has been hit-or-miss in most of the places we’ve traveled, too — it’s expensive, impractically slow (frequently the two go hand-in-hand) or not available at all.

iPads don’t work so well without the internet. Needless to say, I’ve had to make some alterations to my original tech-fueled schemes. I need to learn to read maps and timetables rather than relying on websites. I need to learn — actually learn, or at the very least write down phonetically — how to ask for directions in a variety of languages. I need to learn to manage my time and internet access when I have it — it’s application season and emails from back home don’t stop rolling in, so taking responsibility for communications is a priority. And I need to re-learn how to take notes by hand.

If the cyberpunk genre is categorized as “high-tech and low-life,” I’m living the opposite. The process has forced me to go slow, be flexible, and reaquaint myself with storing data in my head rather than keeping it a couple of clicks away. It’s been as good an excuse as any to unplug for a while and try doing things by hand again. I’m not sure I would have attempted anything of the sort if it weren’t out of necessity, and I’m curious to see if my relationship with technology will be a little different when I get home.

For now, I am going to finish copying the notes for this entry from my travel notebook into the iPad and hit Publish. It’s time-consuming, sure, but kind of funny — I am starting to get used to it, and I don’t mind nearly as much as I thought I would.

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