My time in San Francisco is almost at an end. There's so much I could write about, but right now I'm thinking about connectivity.
My hotel room has an ethernet port, through which I am currently connected. To use it, I must activate a service for a period of up to 24 hours (actually it's from "now" until 3 PM the next day), at a cost of ten dollars. Compared to my home broadband fee, this is highway robbery. Compared to being offline, it's a bargain.
Like many of us, I have begun to take it for granted that "cyberspace" is an always-reachable extension of my own mind. I don't need it 24 hours a day, but day after day it really starts to add up. What was that movie, what was that trivial fact, what was that restaurant I read about, how far is it from point A to point B, and what's the buzz on that microbrewery/tapas joint by the Moscone center? I am so used to being able to answer questions like this within seconds, that being unable to answer them even after a whole day has gone by is painful.
Not to mention that I find myself completely unable to absorb news from my surroundings without it. I see something in a headline, see a piece of a news report, and my first thought isn't "turn on CNN" it's "I wonder if there's a thread about this on Ars or Slashdot." I need to know not just what is happening, but what "my peers" think about it.
Don't get me wrong. I am not sitting there consumed by my lack of connectivity while taking a slow walk through Muir Woods. And as I enjoy a great Greek beer and dip my grilled pita bread in an eggplant and garlic spread I am not thinking "I wonder what today's Penny Arcade was." There's a place for being disconnected, and certain states of mind which only seem to be reachable when you're out of touch. Not only that, but I recognize and value the experience of sitting down for a meal at a restaurant you've heard nothing about and being blown away by the surprise -- of reading a book nobody told you was going to be good and thrilling at making a secret discovery.
But the fact is, those times, places, and experiences are few and far between. I need my cybernetic brain add-on more than I need to be without it.
And apparently I am not the only one. Today I saw a street musician with his hotmail email address written down on a piece of paper in his guitar case, among the nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollar bills. It was surreal, but at the same time I kind of identified with him.