Allora, Viterbo

Chasing Wi-Fi

By Brittany N. Thompson

Even though there is a slight glimpse of lightning in the dark sky as the wind whips down the rain, my laptop, Smartphone, and I finally approach the café where I am meeting a friend. Huffing from the fifteen-minute hike from my apartment to the Piazza Della Morte, I move toward the table where my friend’s attention is completely fixed on the screen of her laptop. I smile and greet the waitress who is sitting at the neighboring table, clearly on a cigarette break. She asks me if I am cold, and once I catch my breath I proudly tell her no because I have on two shirts and my hoodie. I am fine. She responds, “All this for Wi-Fi?” I just looked at her as blankly as she did when she retorted that judgmental comment.

At that moment, I almost felt embarrassed about being associated with readily going there, not for the atmosphere or the outstanding cuisine, but to access their free Wi-Fi. She told me that she always sees me, in particular, at their café. I was shocked to be called out about my relationship with Wi-Fi, but I cannot deny the great lengths I have sometimes gone to stand in the back of their café just for a second of free Wi-Fi. I like to call this act of desperate impulse to find an area of internet access “Chasing Wi-Fi.”

Coming from an existence of free internet at almost every stoplight and the distances in between and checking emails on my Smartphone in my bed as soon as my eyes recognize the light of day, I initially had a hard time adjusting to inconstant Wi-Fi. For the first few days, I found myself holding the antenna side of my phone high in the sky, searching for the slightest signal and the smallest connection. I don’t feign for Wi-Fi just to check who commented on my Facebook status or to update my blog. I check my emails, I read news updates, I make travel arrangements, and I manage other legitimate business. However, all that changed when I came to study abroad in the small town of Viterbo, Italy for six weeks. I was not prepared for how this change would completely affect my actions, decisions, and largely impact the way I lived.

No longer can I just submit a final assignment sitting Indian-style in my warm bed. No. I have to chase Wi-Fi in order to complete my schoolwork. I cannot afford to procrastinate when working on these assignments. I need to do things early because two of the four major internet cafes close around 10 every night, and these happen to be the cafes near my apartment. Now I have to complete my assignment in enough time to truck down the hill to another café and submit it before the midnight deadline, hoping that the connect will be reliable and strong enough to handle the job. Friends tell me stories about going to five different cafes or their known Wi-Fi hot spots just to submit an assignment. Other students stay on campus for hours after class in order to use the free internet access the university provides.

Even little tasks that require the internet become chores, but Wi-Fi chasers are out there accessing what they can. Some people sitting on the sidewalk or standing in doorways are not just strollers; they are consuming free internet from that discovered hot spot. Friends sitting across the table from each other in a café with warm half filled sodas next to their laptops are not there to enjoy each others company; they are there for the Wi-Fi. I have even been so desperate and cheap enough to spark conversation with a friend sitting alone in the café just so I can sit at the table and validate my Wi-Fi use with their purchase. Chasing Wi-Fi is becoming a culture of its own. There’s a network of Wi-Fi chasers who informally report to each other of a random connection when it’s found. Additionally, I’ve met other Americans in Viterbo because we have congregated in the sacred Wi-Fi hot spots so often.

Chasing Wi-Fi definitely affects the cultural experience I have had studying aboard. I’ve learned not to procrastinate on assignments. This experience has definitely helped wean me off the incessant need to do something that requires internet access, and I find myself filling my time with other, possibly, fresh and more fulfilling activities that have me engaged in real Italian culture. There’s a freedom that comes with not being tied to my phone or lugging my laptop everywhere for a moment of Wi-Fi fulfillment. Now I have friends and activities to look forward to in order to fill my time, and I only chase Wi-Fi when absolutely necessary.

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