On July 8th, 2022, an ordinary working Friday, I received a message from my colleague in the morning. He gave us a heads-up that he was in a Starbucks as the town’s internet was out in Toronto. 

I did not pay much attention then, as I had the internet in my area, and I did not know at which scale the internet outage was happening in my colleague’s situation.

Then I received messages on Slack from our partners in Toronto. They asked me if the 10 am meeting would continue. I said “Yes”. As I am in Vancouver, I did not notice that the whole of Toronto city had no internet then.

Then I soon realized that it seemed the internet outage impacted everyone I worked with in Toronto. My colleague joked that maybe half of the town was now in Starbucks due to the internet situation. The business that relies on the internet received the most significant impact. All the online meetings could not carry on. For the online business, there were no online reservations, bookings, or order placements. Even the retailers had to hang up “cash only” signs on their doors that day due to the failure of the POS machines for credit card payments which also go through the internet. People were in a blackout situation; there was no communication as communication happens online. 

When I worked at Cisco as my first company in China, Cisco announced that the internet would be essential in everyone’s life. We would need the internet just like we need water and electricity. 

At that time, I was not sure about that. As Chinese social media Weibo launched in 2009 and WeChat launched in 2011, we still used messages or phone calls as a primary method to communicate. We didn’t need the internet in most aspects of our lives unless we worked. We still went to the bookstore or read newspapers for knowledge exploration. I remember I registered for WeChat in 2012. I did not realize that it would be my primary method of communicating with my friends and parents, ever since then, I started to use WeChat to replace phone calls as WeChat features were involved. Even my grandma used WeChat very well. 

Then our lifestyles changed unconsciously until we became aware of it. In North America, my kid used Google Scholar instead of going to a library if he needed to search for something. I will search Google when I don’t know which Japanese restaurant is a high-rated one nearby if we decide to eat outside. I can make a quick choice for dinner with my family after searching Google and Yelp. When I order something on Amazon, I rely more on the reviews and ratings than on choosing a product from the jungle on my own. I look at Rotten Tomatoes or IMdb comments before watching a movie when I am not sure if it is worth my time. I watch movies on Netflix, YouTube, or Amazon Prime, instead of renting a DVD from a store.

Online reviews

 If I don’t have an online dynamic map, I don’t know how long it takes me to get to a place, and I don’t even know how to drive there, as sometimes road construction or an accident can hugely delay my schedule. 

Without the internet, I think most people would be stuck like me. We feel we lack enough information to make any decision. One day, I read the news that Google knows us better than ourselves or our parents. It has all our traces, which search terms we typed on Google, which online stores we visited, which purchases we made, which topics we followed, and which videos we watched.  

Then let’s come back to the Friday I started with, after Toronto’s internet outage, then the scene switched to the city where I live, Vancouver. After dinner, I planned to do a bit of a hike in my neighborhood as usual. At that time, I did not realize that my cell phone had no signal. I had been in my home’s wifi environment the whole day as my cellular and wifi are from different providers. My wifi was fine all day. 

I have a habit of using my time effectively, so when I hike, I usually do something else at the same time. I usually do one of these: listen to an audiobook, listen to music on Spotify, or use WeChat to call my friends or my family. But when I opened the audiobook, it was not playing; When I tried my music, it showed an error. When I tried to use WeChat, my phone showed there was no internet coverage. I became a bit panicky, and restarted my phone and tried to open those Apps, but those Apps still showed the same face to me. I checked my internet, and it showed I was offline. I realized that because of the internet outage in Toronto, my mobile phone’s coverage might have been impacted as well. Wow, how could I hike for 45 mins with no music, no audiobook, or no WeChat calls?

I then tried to make phone calls to my mom, but there was no dialing tone; then I tried to call my dad, it was the same experience. It seemed that no phone calls were working either, in addition to the lack of cell coverage.

Humm, I did not expect my 45 mins hike was going to be hiking with nothing else accompanying it. It was a new experience for sure. When I walk on the treadmill, I watch TV or watch a short show, and I never exercise without a companion. Today was a new experience. 

OK, since the whole internet was off, I had to deal with the 45 mins walk, and no need to wear my headphones or earphones in my ear. I had to try my best to deal with the “boring” hiking.

However, for the first time, I could hear sounds around me. I could hear kids laughing in the playground, and I could hear a couple’s small talk, although I didn’t know what they were talking about, I could feel their tone was gentle and full of love. There were 3 people walking their dogs in the playground, and one person said to his dog patiently, “Good girl, keep walking, on the grass…” That little dog was walking toward the man slowly. The man kept encouraging her, “Good girl, keep walking”… I guess the dog has some difficulty walking.

I was wondering, is today special? Why can I hear all kinds of conversations around me when I walk in the same neighborhood regularly?

I did not notice people around me when I did walking before, as I was busy either listening to an audiobook or talking with my parents on the phone when I hiked. I do hiking just because I need exercise in my life. 

I continued to walk in the neighborhood; then I noticed lots of “new“ things in my area. One home has very beautiful flowers that were so well designed. I could tell the owner had spent lots of time in their garden to make it so beautiful. I noticed that there were sensors to the small lamps around the garden on the ground, and lots of the small lamps turned on and lit for me when I walked by. I noticed two neighbors were talking, and they chatted about a short family trip tomorrow. I even noticed there was a mini fountain. That lovely fountain had water flowing quietly with a soothing sound. 

Because my internet was down that night, I discovered that my neighborhood is so peaceful, lovely and full of lovely moments. They are the old neighbors, but I did not notice any of them in the past. 

I realized that the internet makes our life busier due to lots of information and enables us to do lots of things, but it can also hinder us from noticing the other small things in our lives. Do you agree?