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  • Writer's pictureJY Yong

Digital disconnect and divide: A personal experience

It’s time for CNM Types’ meeting.

“Okay guys, thank you for coming. N-n-now w-w-e a-r-r-e g-g-”

I rip my Bluetooth earpiece from my ears. It’s actually intolerable. Our editor, Lee Xian, sounds like a robot – not the cool ones, mind you – and not of any fault of her own. Of course. I should have expected this when I bought this earpiece for $19.99 from ValuDollar. Perhaps I should have bought something more reliable, an audio device that could last for longer.

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I can count the pixels of her image on my laptop screen. Really, the only thing that’s visible is that cool Avatar: The Last Airbender Zoom background, which would have been nicer to look at if the video wasn’t as frozen as the titular character. Checking my connection, NUS_STU is still at full strength. Should I change to Wireless@SGx?

I feel the side of my laptop, as a mother feels the forehead of her child. It’s a raging fever that nearly burns me. This has been going on for a while now. Coupled with a lowered battery life – as I type this, 90% equates to barely 2 hours of usage – the signs are rather obvious that my precious companion of 5 years is close to death. After being the base of operations for all my JC notes, after being a bedrock of stability and games during NS bookouts, is it finally time to say goodbye?

No. I’ll try my best to let you live for a little longer. Let’s try something else. I power off my laptop and flip it over so that the overworked heating ducts can cool off by being exposed to air, instead of facing a mercilessly hot wooden table. Previous attempts to do so while the laptop was still on turned the fan into a vengeful hornet, buzzing louder than my music, buzzing loud enough to cut the silence in libraries.

It’s been about two weeks since these cooling measures started. I wanted to buy a new laptop, but even NUS Co-op’s discount price of $1500 was daunting. When I’d brought my device to them, they’d declared it would be more “value” to just get a new one, since repairing my current device would not necessarily extend its lifespan. What’s 5 years old when you have planned obsolescence, right? And so, after one unsuccessful trip down, I’m now in charge of regulating the thermal levels of my laptop.

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I try to log in to the Zoom meeting again on my phone. Meeting passcode? In disbelief, I scroll through the WhatsApp chat, attempting to find it. Maybe it’s on Notion? No luck there either. I throw my hands up in despair, scrolling through all three apps in a useless cycle, until I realise Zoom just logged me out of my account. Okay, maybe this will work…

And it does.

“Jia Yu, is your connection okay? I saw, like, 5 of your accounts at one point…”

Who needs biomedical research when Zoom already invented cloning, right? “Yeah, my bad. The connection really kinda sucks here.” I conveniently leave out my device issues. It’s a long story, and not one that needs to be heard in the short span of a meeting.

“Ah, okay. H-h-hang in t-t-the-r-e.” Dammit, it’s the robot voice again. Droids and clones? What is this, Star Wars? I disconnect my Bluetooth earpiece and the rest of the meeting goes on smoothly. The only thing that isn’t smooth, of course, was the fact that I hadn’t written an article for CNM Types yet, and yet… maybe there’s something to be gleaned just from this short experience.

The meeting wraps up by 9.30pm. That was a lot more efficient than I thought. I now have a bit of time to myself in my room to think.

We like to think of the Zoom classroom as an unambiguous blessing. I’ve had my fair share of lessons where all I needed to do was wake up, and shamble unceremoniously in front my laptop. The complaints from some lecturers of a lack of interactivity had always seemed far away. Much further away was the concept of digital divide, even though I’d learned about it as early as NM1101X.

During that Special Term mod, I pitied the underprivileged kids whose phones barely served as a good substitute for their classmates’ laptops. I marvelled at the CNM Department’s effort to bring them laptops to continue their education. I sympathised with the families who were so busy, cooped up, stressed out that online studies had become a curse instead of a blessing.

But it had never been brought before me until now. Now, when even the simple act of having Zoom open on my laptop can reduce the battery life to 1 hour, and heat up the table under it like Pepper Lunch Express, I realise that in this COVID-19 environment, a reliable electronic device is everything. Everything from my laptop to my earpiece is crucial for a good learning experience in these times.

Maybe my concerns are too bougie. I should feel lucky to even have a laptop at all. Still, I can do something about this new challenge before me. My laptop is cooler now, no longer burning with the flames of Hades. I open WhatsApp.

“Hey Lee Xian, I have an idea for a new article. Ever heard of digital divide?”

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