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I knock, and my contact, Yuri, opens the door and lets me into an ample front room, empty save for a fatigued-looking, sweat-covered guy in a tank top seated on a lone chair.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, and also oversimplifying, because the Cubans—the very resourceful Cubans—haven’t exactly been sitting around sipping mojitos as the digital (“next year in Havana”) at important occasions.
Everything from family letters to fresh-off-the-raft waiters kept us apprised of the increasingly desperate conditions.
Walk down a street in Old Havana and you’ll note a flock of smartphone-clutching loiterers either standing or squatting in a park as they try to get on ETECSA Wi-Fi.
This is Cuban internet, where access to non-state-sanctioned websites is blocked, the government snoops on anything unencrypted, and the service is grindingly slow, when it exists at all.
Given the rickety and expensive connectivity, nobody wastes bandwidth trying to stream It seemed like only a matter of time.
Yet other than a few rumored experiments beginning in the ’90s, the Cuban government had a highly restrictive internet policy until 2015, when ETECSA’s first Wi-Fi hot spots started popping up throughout the capital.
in the magnificently beautiful ruin of Havana, surrounded by decaying stonework and pastel-colored Detroit rolling iron, and you’ll be ignoring it all to swipe down on your Facebook feed like a cocaine addict licking his snort mirror—which you are, of course: a depraved cokehead trying to get a hit.
And you’ll scroll over the same content you swiped over 15 minutes ago, pretending that it might have refreshed and that it might provide the dopamine rush your brain is demanding. It Your fix will come in the form of a small green scratch-off card, almost like a lottery ticket and usually costing a quarter of the average weekly Cuban wage. Your phone will fail to connect, or its signal will quickly fade, since your chosen hot spot, like most of the city’s hot spots, is overwhelmed by demand. The joy when your phone startles awake with a burst of delayed notifications will be obscene and quasi-sexual. The shaky ETECSA network can’t handle the up-to-date versions of Face Google Insta Snap Twitter, and you’ll restart the app and pull down on your feed frantically, again and again and again.
But like the “not even once” warnings around drugs like meth, you know that after the internet is in Cubans’ pockets, it’s over.
Even backward, bitter-ender communist Cuba will become part of the vast data Borg, tied via arterial fiber-optic cables and Wi-Fi to the same pandemonium that gave us cat videos, livestreamed murders, and President Donald J. The real irony is that if the internet does topple the government and bring democracy to this democracy-starved island, it’ll happen just as democracy itself is being undone by Facebook and every other filter-bubble-creating, political-polarization-amplifying, algorithm-optimized feed.