NICE, Calif.--As a San Francisco-based Internet junkie, I can't count the number of times I've been in groups with almost as many wirelessly connected Mac laptops as people.
So the scene in front of me shouldn't be new: four people, three connected Mac laptops.
But there's something completely novel going on: I'm visiting my in-laws at their off-the-grid, mountaintop house in Northern California, about four hours northeast of San Francisco. And I can say with absolute certainty that this is the first time such a scene has played out here.
How do I know? Because it's been less than two weeks since my in-laws, Tyler and Donna, had Internet installed on their property for the first time--in their case, the only available option was satellite--and it's been just hours since I personally set up their wireless network. In other words, Wi-Fi is a newly arrived house guest, and judging by the concentration on their faces, the occasional smiles, and the superlatives coming from their lips, it's a very welcome one.
For years, my wife and I had been trying to get her parents to cotton to the idea that their lives, at 4,000 feet, surrounded by national forest and steeped in the necessities of growing most of their own food, could be improved by getting online. But they'd gotten by just fine, thank you, for more than 30 years, without even a television.
Now, suddenly, there is a Wi-Fi network set up in their house, and I could see my in-laws' lives changing before my eyes.
For example, Tyler said excitedly to me one morning during my visit that he'd figured out how to use e-mail and the Web to do many of the things that used to require him to stop at the post office and get stamps.
"That's the end of snail mail for me," Tyler told me. And, he added, no more catalogs would be cramming their P.O. box.
Working so much better now My wife and I had conveniently--and coincidentally--managed to time our last visit to the mountain with the HughesNet satellite installation. But as I wrote previously, those first baby steps didn't go so well.
Thanks to glacially slow initial download speeds, the unexpected realities of a 200MB daily download limit, and the necessity of loading countless Windows updates onto their 2-year-old, Internet-chaste PC, we had retreated the mountain almost embarrassed by how badly it had gone.
So, I set out to make it all better by bringing them a refurbished MacBook, pre-configured at home with everything they'd need for a happy Internet life. I even unhooked my home Wi-Fi network and donated it to the cause. … Read more