King Loser: My Life on Dial Up

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I’m no big fan of NASCAR, but I’m a big fan of metaphors, and I think this one holds water (See? There’s one right there!): You drive a race car. This is your job. You’re good. You win. A lot. The number of your car is plastered in the rear window of jacked-up pickups nationwide. People purchase soda based solely upon your endorsement of said soda. You win again. You accept a giant trophy from a knockout blonde in a bikini. Expensive champagne is sprayed indiscriminately. Whoooo! Is what you say. Repeatedly. Then, giddy with the thrill of victory, you walk to your everyday vehicle. And it’s a fricking Yugo.

This is my life. Sorta. I’ve taken liberties. But anyway, I work at optimizing websites. My day is spent helping clients with not only search engine optimization, but also site usability and marketing. All day, I’m on a T-1 line. Then I go home, and there it is – a tan phone cord linking my computer to a phone jack in the wall. If I have my speakers on when I get online, I get a dial tone, phone number beeps, then that squelchy computer squeal. Like in The Matrix, but not cool.

This is, admittedly, a source of no little embarrassment. I’m laughed at. I’m a little sensitive about it. Sometimes I cry.

The dial-up does, however, give me an increasingly unique perspective into usability. When I’m looking at a site, and it’s taking a while to load, or even timing out, on our T-1 line, I know from cruel experience that there’s no way anyone’s ever getting there on dial-up. And despite my urge to throw my computer out into the road, I don’t think I suffer from a pathological lack of patience. I’m pretty normal, but I am not going to sit there for a year while your site loads. Count me out. My sanity depends upon it. Sure, flash is pretty, but it’s keeping me, a potential source of revenue, from your products and services. And I’m not alone, friends. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project’s Report on Rural Broadband Internet Use (PDF), only 24% of rural Americans have high-speed Internet at home. 29% of us (most, I’d imagine, reluctantly) suffer through the dial-up. Even scarier, 21% of urban Internet users are on dial-up. That’s a lot of folks. That’s a whole mess of potential customers who maybe are trying to access your site, then giving up, going to one that’s maybe a little less “flashy” but that will actually load.

For this reason, this special insight, I appreciate my dial-up connection. I can apply my home situation to my job, give clients a little edge into all aspects of the marketplace. A little flash goes a long way, is what I say. And I say “thank you, dial-up!”

No, never mind. It still sucks.

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