Jean Barker

Living in the future

2014-06-27 10:05

People often ask me what I miss the most about America when I'm home in SA. Right after "sleeping in my own bed" comes “the internet”.

South Africa's web service has come a long, long way since 2009, when broadband access was so expensive and hard to find that I sometimes kept my day job just for after-hours access to broadband. But even the fastest access at work still doesn't compare when it comes to the online lifestyle I experience in the USA.

Every worthwhile kind of entertainment is available online, on demand, for $39 a month. Cable? Only if you actually WANT to watch advertising, or if you watch what Americans call “sport”.

Instead of cable TV, I have Netflix, which streams millions of TV shows and films for a monthly flat fee of $8.

I also have Amazon Prime, which offers a slight variation of content, but also comes with free shipping, cheaper digital downloads and some free books for my kindle, for an $80 yearly fee.

I don't bother with Hulu, which streams Network and other shows sooner than Netflix / Amazon, but does force you to watch advertising. Advertising is a no-no for me.

And then there's YouTube of course, and Vimeo, which play smoothly. No mess, no fuss, no buffer and fairly short, targeted ads if any.

These services are addictive, amazing, and allow you access to a seemingly infinite selection of media. But believe it or not, there is a down side.

When I was last in SA, I missed my internet addiction terribly – at first. But after a few weeks, I realised something. I'd started spending my time with friends. I was outdoors a lot. I had plans in the real world more often. At night, I read a book or listened to a podcast. Rather than living glued to Facebook and bouncing from one social network to another, I was actually – gasp! – living my life. It helped that I didn't have access to a smart phone, but even if I had, paying for data would have meant I couldn't spend all day being mercilessly updated on what my friends in America's pets did that seemed like, totally adorable to them.

Back in LA... took me about 10 minutes to go back to my media-addicted mania. Soon, my bed was full of popcorn crumbs. I'd inhaled a season of House of Cards. I'd looked at 100 pictures of other people's dogs, cats and kids. It was once Friday, but now it was Sunday. My suitcases lay on the floor, not even unpacked. What happened?

If you're not careful, existence in LA in 2014 becomes a dystopian half-life. The sidewalks are cracking, the roads are full of pot holes, the government is spying on us, the planet is being destroyed as we wipe our arses on the rainforest and inject our food sources with enough antibiotics to prevent disease in Africa, and we're running out of water... but never mind. The information superhighway is there to escape on; always gleaming in its full-HD perfection, and dinner's in the microwave.

- Jean is a screenwriting/directing dual MFA student in California, USA. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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