After electricity and running water, the internet has become the most important utility for most people in the western world. The home telephone and television are still relevant to many people though both have been replaced somewhat by the internet.
I removed the phone line from my home a few years ago as I only used my mobile phone to call people. The house line seemed to only be used for being annoyed by spam marketers and people generally call mobiles rather than house phones now as they know there’s a better chance of speaking to the person.
Likewise, I've not actively watched television for several years. In my house in the UK I have a large 47” television in my living room though it’s only used for playing video games or watching movies.
The internet has become more important because speeds have improved so much. Speeds have improved to the point where the internet is becoming the hub for entertainment, communication, information and more. It’s easy to forget how important the speed of the connection is to how you use the internet. 15 years ago we all connected to the web using 56kb modems. Photographs downloaded in stages and video…..well video wasn't even an option.
Broadband changed everything. It can be considered a major event for the internet as it helped shape the internet for years to come. Web designers took advantage of improved speeds by building more graphic intensive websites and websites like YouTube made watching video online the norm. Companies such as Virgin Media in the UK now offer broadband connections up to 100mb. It really is a different world because of it.
You Need A Good Connection To Work Online
As someone who works on the web, there have been countless occasions where I've been frustrated with the poor speed of an internet connection. I am sure you all have too. 99% of these frustrations happened when I was away from my home connection and that remains true today.
The best example of this was when I was travelling in Thailand in 2003. I had been working online for around 3 years and had between 20 to 30 small content websites and a few discussion forums. Checking my emails and maintaining these websites on the road wasn't a chore – it was damn near impossible. The majority of internet cafes had 20 to 30 people in them using computers. I remember vividly the dirty keyboards and dusty CRT monitors that were being used.
Hotmail was the most popular email provider so when you went into the internet cafe at least half the people were checking their email. This was no easy task. Hotmail wasn't the slickly designed website it is today. It was full of banner ads and took an age to load. This wasn't helped by the fact that everyone in the internet cafe was sharing a 56kb connection! Due to this, it normally took a few minutes just to check one email. The owners of the internet cafe no doubt rejoiced at this since they charged by the hour.
Fast forward 9 years and things are much better on the road, however it can still be frustrating at times. I've been backpacking through South America over the last few months and good connections weren't always easy to come by. I spent about 6 to 7 weeks in Peru and Bolivia between September and the end of October this year. The internet connections in Peru were bad though in Bolivia it was really disappointing. I got around 100kb/s in most places (though bizarrely when we did a short 25 minute flight within Bolivia, we got 29mb/s upload at the airport!). It made checking emails and working a pain in the ass to say the least.
Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are quite developed so I was getting at least 5mb/s in most hostels and hotels. That’s a good enough connection to do most things on the web though there was still times that connections slowed considerably if lots of people logged on.
After spending a night in Chile, we recently travelled back up to Colombia. We’re staying at a friend’s house for free (the 2nd home of our friend’s parents to be exact). It was a great gesture from them however there is no internet connection. In this day and age, this isn't a problem. I got a USB modem and put 70,000 pesos on it (which is approximately $38.50). This was supposed to give me 8GB over a period of one month….or so I thought. I asked my girlfriend if the card was loaded and she said yes so I loaded up Gmail and Hotmail to check my emails. She then told me that I had to text the operator (Movistar) in order to choose the monthly package.
Unfortunately, I got a message saying that there were insufficient funds. The mobile application (Mobile Partner) stated that I had used 8mb whilst loading Gmail and Hotmail (Outlook). I expected this to have used up 1 or 2 thousand pesos at most. No. I wasn’t that lucky. Movistar advised us that we had used up all 70,000 pesos. WTF!! $40 was gone in just under a minute of using the internet.
Despite our protests, their only solution was to reload again. We decided to pay 4,000 pesos to get one day of access. This had a limit of 200mb. I've not had to worry about my bandwidth for over 10 years but I made a point of not viewing any videos and photos. Despite this, after an hour and ten minutes of checking emails and messages, I had used up all 200mb.
I couldn’t believe it I used so much by simply responding to emails and loading up websites in order to reply to mesages (on Flippa and via one of my discussion forums). Dropbox and GDrive had been switched off but I suspect something else had been downloading in the background as I was able to continue to use the modem for a day despite their limit rule and it took me hours to use up another 200mb.
It reminded me how important a good connection with no bandwidth limits is to working online. Yes, you can work online with slower speeds and bandwidth limits, but it really holds you back from being productive. Downtime can be a good thing too as it allows you to read books, plan out articles and projects etc but when you actually need to work, slow speeds will hinder you.
How do you deal with slow internet connections?
p.s. If you want to know what happens when the internet goes down, check out the classic South Park episode Over Logging :)