Surfing Down Memory Lane

In the web age, your router history is a scrapbook all its own

If you open Network Preferences on your Mac laptop and navigate to the Advanced settings in the Airport tab, you’ll find a list of “preferred networks.” These are the Wifi routers you’ve connected to since getting the computer. They’ll have strange names based on periods in your life, cafes you went to, friends, libraries, classrooms. The computer remembers this information so you don’t have to. All that data, though, isn’t just a cobwebby accumulation on your life; it’s a new axis by which to remember it.

The first router my Macbook connected to was Meredith’s Plaid Titties from my apartment in Brookline, MA, where I lived in 2010. Meredith was one of three roommates I had that year, my last at Boston University. “Plaid Titties” is just an absurdism, something distasteful enough, hopefully, to make old ladies in the area wonder what’s happening to the moral character of society.

It has to be said—naming your wifi is a big deal. You’re sharing a stage with all the wifis in local space, so if you have any self-regard you’ll want to leave a mark in people’s minds. If you make your wifi “Russell Bocker” because that’s your actual name, then maybe you don’t deserve to have internet.

I connected to PANERA a lot in 2009. Much of what little schoolwork I did was done there. Personal writing was saved for BrooklineFree, the wifi of Pete’s Coffee. Wifiaruba, where I used to vacation over Christmas with my family, cost something like $30 a week and was very slow. I’m still embarrassed by being raised well-off, so it makes me cringe a little to look at that one.

In Portland, I spent dozens of unemployed hours with Seattle’s Best Wifi, the Starbucks Wifi of the Northwest. I wrote my first novel there, some letters to a friend, and a number of disorderly and pompous essays in which I felt sorry for myself: “It is the fate of man to be nothing! Yes, yes—obscurity grinds men into nothingness. Every day I wake with confidence, and from my seat of nothingness strike out into the world, and every day I am bested!”

Back on wifiaruba, I stared blankly at loading webpages while processesing the fight I just had with my mom—still our worst fight —in which I tried to convince her about “nothingness,” something I took very seriously at the time. I was in the hotel lobby when she came down and said it was silly to sit there alone and why don’t I just come back up to the room. We watched Toy Story 3 on her laptop together, and used wifiaruba for that too.

The router at the Portland apartment was The Big Cheese. The password was “gorgonzola.” My roommate and I spent a lot of time deciding which cheese was best.

I used the gogoinflight wifi on my flight to France. I tried to write my second novel with davfam’s Network in Normandy, but the work-exchange made me too tired, so I ended up writing most of it on NEUF_3444, when I took a sublet in St. Denis just outside Paris. The girl I fell in love with there used NEUF_3444 to play me the songs of Timbre Timbre on Youtube. It was also the wifi we used to take these pictures on, the day before I left:

Johanna and I

When I moved to Los Angeles in 2011, I stayed at my friends’ place and looked for an apartment with 18+ ONLY NSFW (I don’t mix with Russell Bockers). Sometimes I stayed with diggler (as in Dirk, as in Boogie Nights) or Not_Your_Wifi. Eventually I settled in Silverlake. My roommate there, the worst I’ve ever had, made the wifi her own name, which tells you everything you need to know about her.

I looked for a job with Cafe Tropical Wireless. They had the best bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches in the world. Downtown, I used LAPL_Public to search the card catalog for books on Kansas circa 1960 for a novel I never finished.

After I got hired by msnbciDevices, I moved to the Lower East Side in Manhattan and stole my neighbor’s internet for a year. It was called LOUPGARROU with the password “SirIanSirIanSirIan,” an obscure but amazing reference to a hilarious scene from Ricky Gervais’ second sitcom, Extras. Atlascafe, pausecafe, and cocoabar are three great coffee shops in that area, by the way (free wifi!).

These days I’m living in Brooklyn. That’s where I am now, writing this on Tiffany Amber Thiessen. Of course, pus42chak will always be home. AmtrakConnect will always be my travel companion. And if things get really dark, linksys is never far away.

So much of our lives now existing on the web, these routers flood with meaning and memory. More data than ever is ours, and it’s not just for the NSA to spy on us with; we’ve uploaded a portion of our souls, via a conduit of metadata, to the cloud—which means that from the cloud, from its vast datasets, our souls can be read.

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