AT&T’s Shutdown of iPhone’s Unlimited Data Has a Bright Side

Why should I get more Internets than you?

Perhaps you’ve heard tell of a missive that comes from AT&T in the deep of night, delivered by elves, that wakes you from your sugarplum sleep with news too gruesome to believe: Your data is being taken away. It comes to those who purchased iPhones early on, whose early adoption was rewarded by two words we wore like a badge of honor: unlimited data. While friends who came onboard later were consigned to worry over every text—compromising their punctuation pre-Twitter—we could write lazy, spiraling, philosophical treatises on the lateness of the bus or the annoying qualities of the woman sitting next to us. We were indulged, like spoiled children who knew nothing of the world. We saw articles and TV news stories heralding data gloom and surcharges, but we’d been grandfathered—so much so, we ate that 3G for breakfast as we looked up the derivation of the term “grandfathered” to see if there had ever been a feminist movement to call it “grandmothered.” We just learned for learning’s sake, whenever we felt like it, wherever we were. We ignored wireless signals because they seemed ugly and tawdry, and laughed when friends requested passwords at coffee shops. We were on top of the world.

Then, these missives. It seemed someone was talking to us about data. What? You must have the wrong address. No, the elves had come in person. What they said was this: You know how we said it was unlimited? Well, we’re wondering if we can take that back. Like, grandnephew you out?

Some were very angry. There were at-home riots, data looting, phone toppling. Apple stickers were torn from iPhone cases and set on fire on trashcans.

We had to have it explained to us in very clear, basic terms: There wasn’t enough Internets to go around. All of our 3G triple-goodness that we’d blown through like Charlie Sheen and a pile of coke (winning!) had been too much. The world was running out of data capacity, and it was no longer fair that a few arbitrarily lucky people should have more than everyone else. It was like we were living in the Soviet Union suddenly or had been brainwashed by a cult that worshipped John Stuart Mill. And yet, unlike some of my fellow data sluts, I was relieved. I knew was out of control. I had become master of facts I had no interest in.

AT&T can’t be blamed. The company could not have predicted customers would start to use their iPhones as their primary gateway to the Internet. Wouldn’t everyone want to see things on a bigger screen? They didn’t anticipate the impatience of the American consumer. You want me to wait until after dinner to settle that argument with my friend about whether there was a sitcom about two guys who dressed as women to go to work in the 1980s? What? I’m going to go home, fire up the computer and send out a link? Of course not. I’m going to look on my iPhone, and use Wikipedia, IMDb and about 10 other apps to substantiate my claim, watch YouTube clips and then find out what happened to the lead actors since then. And the whole time I’ll be saying, “It’s okay, I’m Unlimited.”

But I’m not anymore. AT&T now has other ideas—tiered payment plans and surcharges and stuff. No doubt it has something to do with capitalism, but I couldn’t tell you for sure without going online, and I don’t think that’s a good idea. Let’s do our best to save the Internets so that we don’t run out of smartness. Otherwise, we might have to go back to those big, free-data buildings. What were they called? Oh yeah, libraries.