Early last week, students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison experienced both their first full week of classes of the school year and a three-day-long campus wide internet shutdown.
The two scenarios most definitely do not go hand-in-hand, and the reactions across campus were what one might expect — annoyance, frustration, anxiety or all of the above.
In an age where almost every assignment is completed online and almost every resource is found through the internet, it’s easy to understand how an internet outage would trigger unenthusiastic responses from students and staff. But amidst this forced trip back to a time where computers weren’t the dominant note-taking tool, I also found a good amount of temporary pros.
Without internet, students were forced to be a lot more present. Instead of frantically typing up notes so fast that I wasn’t even fully grasping what a professor was saying, I was able to really listen and take in more of the information.
While completing work between classes, I found myself staying a lot more focused without the luring distractions of my texts coming through my laptop screen or the pull of online shopping drawing me in. With absolutely nothing else loading at all on my devices, my options of what to do were far more limited, which meant that my work and assignments became priority one.
Even just for the typical parts of my day, I found myself having to adjust to a new routine. I’ve become very reliant on my free pass through the university to The New York Times and have grown accustomed to checking it daily to become aware of what’s happening in the world. But without access to my online subscription, I had to read a physical copy of the newspaper.
Despite this change in pace, the information I got out of my daily read was the exact same it would have been if I read it online. In a strange way, the internet shutdown almost encouraged me to look deeper for solutions if a problem arose.
Beyond just being present in classes and with schoolwork in general, the lack of internet forced me and many of my friends and classmates to be more present with each other. In one 200-person lecture, we spent the duration of our class period having a massive discussion on the topic we were learning about rather than just listening to the professor speak. A few brave students volunteered their opinions.
Before smaller discussions began, I noticed groups of my classmates, myself included, talking with each other before the TA set out to begin their lesson. Instead of sitting silently on our phones, checking our social media and largely ignoring each other, we were able to connect with one another, a lot more than I’m assuming we would have if we had access to the internet.
The internet shutdown certainly wasn’t something I would say was enjoyable by any means. But it was a harsh awakening to just how much we rely on our devices, and perhaps this reliance is a bit too much.
If anything positive could be spun out of the three-day chaos caused by a lack of internet, perhaps it could be the way students and staff were more present and flexible in their day to day lives.