Disconnected

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Finals week started this past Wednesday and runs through tomorrow. (I’m not a fan of having it staggered over a weekend like this, but at least it’s better than other arrangements I’ve had to deal with, including one where I was forced to run a final on a Saturday.) As I’m fond of telling my students in the leadup to finals week, we instructors kind of deal with pressure this time of year in an inverse relationship with how students feel; right now things are kind of low-key for me, even as I respond to student emails and the like, because I’m free from the daily trial of putting together lesson plans for each class. My students are likely pushing themselves harder than they have all semester, but once finals week is over, that cloud over their heads dissipates. At that moment, though, all the pressure gets heaped back on instructors like me to read papers, calculate final grades, and get everything uploaded to the university’s servers before the big deadline. It’s hardly my favourite part of being an instructor, especially with the pressure I put on myself to get every final grade as accurate as I possibly can, but that’s what I get paid for.

Last Wednesday, however, we hit close to 70 degrees Fahrenheit in this part of Wisconsin, and I’m not sure that it’s gotten that warm on the first day of every spring semester finals week I’ve been a part of here. The weather was totally off the charts, and the high wind warning that began Wednesday night was issued more than twenty-four hours in advance. We dealt with a severe thunderstorm warning and a tornado watch Wednesday evening — keep in mind, this is less than a week before the winter solstice — and even after the storms cleared out, the strong winds didn’t go away for nearly another twenty-four hours. To call this an auspicious start to finals week would be a massive understatement.

Everything seemed to be okay when I went to bed shortly after midnight that night, but then we got hit with two brief power outages just five minutes apart from one another. Having been through similar situations here, I knew that having outages so close to one another could easily interfere with Internet access out here — systems that were rebooting after the first outage get messed up in mid-reboot by the second outage — and sure enough, my phone said that the apartments’ wi-fi was down. I was able to fall asleep after that, but according to the clock on my oven, we must have had at least one more power outage after that which got resolved shortly after two in the morning. There was still no wi-fi here when I woke up, and it didn’t take me long to realize how much trouble I was in.

I’d been through a four-day Internet outage about six months earlier, when our service went down right as ownership of this property changed hands, and neither the old nor the new owners seemed to be able to do anything about it. That happened on the last day of my summer semester course, but I was able to work my way around that because I could at least set my phone up as a wi-fi hotspot and use its data connection on my other devices here. Since then, though, something happened that caused my phone reception at my apartment to go down to absolutely nothing. I think this may have something to do with the shutting down of 3G towers earlier, but I don’t know that for certain; regardless of the cause, with the wi-fi down here, that meant I was completely without Internet access of any kind at my apartment.

The good news is that this happened on the one weekday of finals week when I didn’t have commitments to be on Zoom to answer questions for my students, so there wasn’t any pressure on that front. If students emailed me about anything, though, I had no way of knowing, and this doesn’t even touch on all the other Internet stuff I do on a daily basis. I had no choice but to walk to campus in the high winds, ensconce myself in my office, and use the wi-fi there to message my apartment’s manager about the Internet outage, check all my email, and just generally try to conduct as much of my usual daily Internet business as I could. At least my refrigerator stayed on this time.

After a couple of hours, I returned to my apartment to find that there was still no Internet access here. My usual start time for my Twitch channel came and went, and I couldn’t stream that day. By that point, though, Twitch was far from my biggest concern. I had Zoom obligations the following day, and if the Internet outage was going to continue, then my entire life was going to be uprooted, and unless I literally moved into my office, I wouldn’t be able to answer student emails as quickly as I felt was proper during finals week. Normal business hours had long since ended, and if there had been a lot of wind-related damage caused by the storms in my part of Wisconsin — as I feared was the case — then I figured that it could be days before we’d get our service restored, even if it was finals week.

At about 2100 that night, though, Internet access came back on. I almost couldn’t believe it at first, but then I started to get online to recheck my email and make sure I hadn’t missed doing anything earlier while I was on campus. I also found myself getting incredibly emotional as a result of the relief that was coursing through me, and even though I quickly recognized this as a symptom of the stress I’ve been under in general, I still couldn’t help feeling like I was a giant dork for being so worried about Internet access, even with it being finals week at the end of a very difficult semester. Internet access has stayed on since then, but Google Fi still isn’t returning my messages about the lack of reception out in this part of the state, and until I can get that resolved, then every possibility of a wi-fi outage here will likely send me into a real panic, and I just don’t have the capacity to deal with that right now.

I’m still reading reports about how much the windstorms messed things up in southwest Wisconsin, and it’s a good thing that I’d already baked a lot of flexibility into my classes this semester, because it appears that I’ll be dealing with a lot more incompletes this semester than usual. I don’t have a problem with that, but it does mean more online forms and such to fill out when I input the final grades for my classes in about a week, so my post-finals week crush will likely be more difficult than usual . At least we get a long break between semesters here, so I’ll have a few weeks to recover before I teach again.

Today was a better day for me; I was able to help a few students out via Zoom and email in the morning, I snuck a fair bit of reading in that afternoon, and I made a pretty good batch of whole wheat macaroni and cheese that will keep me fed throughout the week here. Tomorrow will likely be busier, with students coming closer and closer to that pre-midnight deadline to turn in their final papers, and then Wednesday will be the start of all that reading and grading and calculating I need to do. I know I can do all that work from my office if I need to, but I really hope that I can get through the coming work (and holidays) without another Internet outage sending me into a tailspin. This time of year is hard enough for all of us without technological problems; when services that we use every day start to malfunction, that creates a burden that would be hard enough to deal with in the best of times, and with everything going on in the world right now, this is far from the best of times.

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