At first when the Internet was introduced to the world, there were very few souls who had access to it. It was a simpler time. The dial-up connection took a while to connect to the Internet and when it did, it was almost a moment of joy.
Cut to roughly 20 years later, Internet is everywhere! From our home PCs, the world has moved onto laptops, tablets and the ever growing smartphones. Internet connectivity speeds have become faster. We start feeling anxious if there is even a minor slowdown in our broadband speeds. Agreed the internet landscape is different from what it was 20 years ago. But have you ever wondered what it would be like to use today’s internet on a dial-up connection? How many out there even remember what a modem looked like?
Andrew Spaulding, a writer and artist was approached by Hopes and Fears, who suggested he use a 56K modem for a limited period of time. He was told to use it for three days but he took it up a notch higher and suggested that he would try using it for a week.
The only rule given to him was, this: The Subject must, at all times, use a 56K modem to connect to the internet.
The report by Hopes and Fears shares his experience on using a modem for seven days. He quotes this decision as, “possibly the most panic-attack inducing bullshit decision I’ve ever made.”
Andrew, an NYC resident, uses an iPhone 5 along with a Macbook Pro. He began his challenge by shutting off his phone’s data and hiding his laptop at his friend’s place. According to the report, he said that, “I was only allowed to send or receive 56,000 bits of information per second. That means that one Gigabyte of information would take about 5 hours to receive.”
He realised at the start of the day itself when he entered a Burger King joint which made him question his responsibility to the 56K challenge. The menus behind the counter were all HiDef panels that cycled through food items, ads and the weather. He stated, “Technically, by just ordering a whopper I could have inadvertently lost the challenge.” The challenge had transformed New York into a bizarre LCD screen obstacle course, points out the report.
As a few days went by, he got YouTube-ambushed. His friends would jab some videos right to his face. After a while, he realised that was a tad dramatic and it would compel him to explain the challenge to people which was very exhausting. The reaction he got was basically, “Wait so… why do you want to do this to yourself?”
Andrew states that the most difficult part of this experiment was in fact, using the slow computer. He had too many emails piled up which he could not ignore. To his surprise, Gmail worked well as the emails loaded fine as he started going through them one at a time.
However hard he tired, the curse to use social media did catch up with him. He gave in to try Facebook but it was basically “a jumble of links and text.” He experienced Tumblr as “just too slow”. When he tried to load a YouTube Video, he could only view a static background image and sound. The video tried to load for 20 minutes before it gave up. Andrews points out here that, “This makes sense”. He added that, a standardized form of streaming media (Flash) wasn’t accepted at large until 2002 and YouTube did not emerge up until 2005. Apart from social media, he also reached out to a couple of DVDs and VHS tapes in search of entertainment.
He also realised how dependent he was on high speed internet. Andrew says that, “Almost every single credit card transaction I made used high-speed internet. Almost every cab I rode in used GPS.”
After all this, his only thought was, “Nothing in 2015, works with a 56K modem”. Andrew also pointed out that, “If nothing else, the challenge made me acutely aware of how much we’ve become a cyborg culture almost overnight.”