Just How Connected do I Need to Be?

We live 70 km (40 miles) from downtown Toronto, but there are times it feels like 700 km. Not only do we have a well, and a septic tank, and until not-very-long ago no garbage or recycling pickup, we are – shall we say – underserviced in the wireless communications department.

Until very recently the only place I could get a cell phone signal was outside. That’s improved, which is good, because the cell phone system is how we access the internet. It’s the only signal that reaches our house effectively, surrounded as we are by very tall trees. We have what is called a ‘turbo-hub’, basically a wireless router that uses the cell phone signal instead of other options. The problem is, it’s expensive.

We pay in usage increments, up to 15 GB of data, which maxes out at $105, and then per MB after that. Yep, per MB. This hadn’t actually been a problem until very recently, when a combination of three things brought us up short. The first was automatic updates to Windows and to our virus protection, which for our two laptops was suddenly eating up about 2GB every month….and that’s without the potential Windows 10 download. And then there are automatic app updates on our two iPADs and our two iPhones. The second was a period of rapid growth in my freelance writing & editing business, which suddenly took off – but as it’s all done electronically, it was using a lot of data, especially when there are pictures involved. And the third was my on-line university course, which suddenly had a lot of on-line interactive map manipulations in the assignments. When last month’s overage charges were one and half times our 15GB rate, we knew something had to change.

Now my business actually does something, the obvious solution is for me to get a separate turbo-hub for my laptop, so I can charge the costs back to the business. Which I will do, in the new year. But until then, we took a hard look at our internet use, and more importantly, our habits.

How often a day do I actually need to check Facebook, Twitter, Google+, my blog pages, and e-mail? Once? Twice? The business e-mail more often, yes, and I use social media to advertise and promote, but I still don’t need to be on them constantly. And why were all our devices constantly connected to the internet? How long does it actually take to make that connection? So things have been turned to airplane mode when not actively in use, the phones are off wi-fi completely (we have a decent amount of data in our plan) and I’m disciplining myself about social media. The personal e-mail gets checked once a day – if something’s really important, my siblings or friends will text me…or, heaven forfend, actually call me. But in our instantly connected world, this is taking conscious work to break these habits.

Almost equally hard to break was the immediate up-or-downloading of files. The next chapters have arrived from one of my editorial customers? Download them right now. Finished the edits? Send them back right now, regardless of the fact the customer is several time zones away. Until the business turbo-hub is in place, ‘right now’ has been replaced by ‘when I’m in town, and can access the secure network at the university’. Has anyone complained? Nope…..

The result of all this is not only will we not get hit with another bill of $250 for a month of internet, I actually get more work done, more efficiently. Does that surprise anyone? No? Not even me…so now I’m wondering how I let myself spend my time (and my money) so inefficiently, for the sake of the reassurance (or disappointment ) we get from those instant connections. But I have to say, playing with the maps in my landscape archaeology course may have used a lot of data, but it was a lot of fun.

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