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Offline: One Year Without the Internet
July 14, 2012 8:45 PM   Subscribe


 
I've been following this since the inception of the experiment, and it's been quite interesting. Not to mention that I've pretty much left Engadget and Gizmodo behind since Verge is showing them up daily.
posted by deezil at 8:51 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


He should have just gone out and asked a poor person. I'm certain they could have told him how they do things.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:52 PM on July 14, 2012 [16 favorites]


I hope he takes the rest of his life off from writing a book about the experience.
posted by fleacircus at 9:03 PM on July 14, 2012 [38 favorites]


I wish I could pay bills using the internet. I live in NYC in 2012 and yet every month I still need to handwritte out a paper check for my rent and put it into an envelope with a stamp and mail it.
posted by pravit at 9:04 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


So he's bored and going to pretend its 1980 for a year?
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:08 PM on July 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was so confused the first time I read about this, because I thought it was this Paul Miller.
posted by kelegraph at 9:12 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wish I could pay bills using the internet. I live in NYC in 2012 and yet every month I still need to handwritte out a paper check for my rent and put it into an envelope with a stamp and mail it.-- pravit

There are online services that will do that for you.
posted by eye of newt at 9:21 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


So he's typing out his "dispatches" and snail mailing them? How completely precious.

I'm old enough to remember life Before Internet. It took forever to get things done. No thanks, I don't miss that at all.
posted by MissySedai at 9:22 PM on July 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Wow, he's just ASKING for someone to sell him some super-questionable food, knowing that he'll be unable to ask the Internet if it's safe to eat.
posted by acidic at 9:25 PM on July 14, 2012 [20 favorites]


When the telephone became ubiquitous, did journalist write stories about how they decided to only communicate with Morse code?* These "let's try to live without the Intetrnet" stories are getting old. Yes, the rate at which the Internet arose is astonishing and likely unparalleled.

This just seems like millennials patting itself on the back, going down the same path that's been done repeatedly. To be old enough to have to have functioned without the Internet--to write checks or or figure out software on your own--is not that old. These stories will only be interesting in, say, 50 years, when the historical reenactment is not in fresh memory.

*Technically, it would be using the telegraph. Calling it Morse code just made the sentence work better.
posted by MrGuilt at 9:26 PM on July 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


I was so confused the first time I read about this, because I thought it was this Paul Miller.


So problem different angle: At first I thought it was the writer for The Verve.
posted by Mike Mongo at 9:28 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


He has a point about Diablo III. A person ought to be able to play offline against the computer for his/her own enjoyment.
posted by Renoroc at 9:29 PM on July 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Maybe I'm showing my age, but his fussing over the bills seems odd to me. Some of my bills get paid with automatic transfers or online banking. Others still show up each month in an envelope, and I fill out a check and send them the money. It's not complicated, and if I wanted I could have all my bills arrive that way. The only real advantage of the online bill paying is that I can be traveling and still ensure that everything gets paid seamlessly.

The big advantage of the internet for me is not in bill paying, but rather in getting answers to questions. Need an owners manual? A how-to guide for a repair? Recipes for a new kind of food? The phone number of the hotel where your friend is staying in Paris? All of those were major endeavors before the internet, and are now trivial to find.

I know lots of people who are not poor, but who live entirely or almost entirely without using the internet. They seem to manage just fine, and arguably might have richer lives for it.
posted by Forktine at 9:42 PM on July 14, 2012


This is dumb. I NEVER use the Internet and I do just fine, thank you very much.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:45 PM on July 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


When the telephone became ubiquitous, did journalist write stories about how they decided to only communicate with Morse code?* These "let's try to live without the Intetrnet" stories are getting old. Yes, the rate at which the Internet arose is astonishing and likely unparalleled.

I think there's value to pointing out how much more difficult life can be when you don't have internet. You know, like lots of people. Poor people. Older people. Because when everything is shifted to the internet those people get totally screwed. And it's nice for those of us who have the internet and our own computers and good connections and all of that to be reminded that, actually, the world is often being reshaped to suit us, not those who are perhaps too old to learn the system or too broke to afford the cheapest computer let alone another monthly bill. And maybe they would use the library but even those are getting shut down. Or maybe they live somewhere where all you get is dialup or something close to it, so those nice flashy websites take forever to load.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:50 PM on July 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


too old to learn the system

The rest of the argument is valid. Computers and Internet access can be expensive. However, there is no such thing as "too old to learn," unless we're talking about age-related mental deterioration. Given the number of wonderful members of the elderly who happily embrace technology and change, I think "too old to learn" is perhaps a euphemism for "too stubborn to change their ways."
posted by explosion at 9:55 PM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


He's not the first person to do this. What I find curious about these experiments is that they seem to be about proving how necessary the internet has become to our daily lives -- bills, email, checking the weather, traffic, etc. -- which...so? In these respects, the internet exists in a state of benign symbiosis for most of us. By which I mean to say, we don't spend any longer on our bills, etc., than we really have to, and generally speaking being able to do that stuff by clicking buttons is easier than what we had to do before the internet. It's not a problem.

What may be a problem is Facebook, TV Tropes, Wikipedia, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Tumblr...sites that open like abysses beneath the feet of the easily distracted. Or even the not so easily distracted. Or evenoh hang on a minute
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:58 PM on July 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Please next do A Decade Without Stunt Reporting.
posted by benzenedream at 9:59 PM on July 14, 2012 [15 favorites]


I think "too old to learn" is perhaps a euphemism for "too stubborn to change their ways."

Maybe. My mum uses the internet quite happily and she's near 70. But I have delivered books to elderly people older than that and trust me, they just can't. Or maybe they could manage email, but not multiple complex websites (it's easy to forget how complex some websites are because we're used to using them). And those are people without literacy issues and still with good eyesight and reasonable motor skills. And honestly why should you have to learn how to use the internet at 85 just so you can fill a form out. Or even print one out so you can fill it out and post it in.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:03 PM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I remember when hacks wrote stunt articles about only using the Internet and avoiding the phone, television, letter mail, and leaving their apartment.
posted by ceribus peribus at 10:12 PM on July 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


The net is awesome: I started my career as a journalist around 1997 or so, just before the internet became ubiquitous. When I wrote an article I had to copy it to a floppy disk and then brave the 405 to physically deliver it to my editors in another county. Just thinking of it makes me want to lovingly spoon with my laptop all night long.

The net is horrifying: A while back our net went down for about three days because Verizon sucks a big pile of butts. Everything I wanted or needed to do was online. Everything. I ended up wandering from room to room like a lost Borg detached from the collective.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:20 PM on July 14, 2012 [14 favorites]


I plan on spending the next year using the Internet or not, depending on task and circumstances. Then not writing about it.

YOU'RE WELCOME
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:26 PM on July 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


His latest piece, "hard to binge", is both poignant and chilling. How shackled are we to the lure of instantaneous factoids, of trivia, of quick bits of entertainment? Oh sure, oh-so discriminating MeFite, you can claim you are selective about what you consume on the internet, that your attention span remains the same as it was prior to using the internet.

Someone needs to do for the internet what Neil Postman did for television. It may not be this Paul Miller, but someone needs to give this medium we treat like air and water a good critiquing.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:37 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't this guy in New York? He might want to check out a newish inention called the NY Public Library system, arguably one of the best library systems in the world, if he wants to binge.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:52 AM on July 15, 2012


He addresses the issue of libraries and books in this piece, too. And cites Postman again.

Hm.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:59 AM on July 15, 2012


for any mefite living under a rock who managed to miss it - this is a great mefi comment about libraries and the internet and the poor.

i do think this year off thing can make some good points about the divide the internet puts between the haves and the have nots, even if it's one of the haves doing without.
posted by nadawi at 2:09 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


*peers out from under rock*
Thanks for linking that, nadawi. Fantastic and sad comments by codacorolla.

Here in the Netherlands, banks have been shutting down branches to cut costs or as a result of mergers. This means that there are no physical banks in many towns and neighborhoods, so all banking tasks require an Internet connection. And yes, there are many elderly people who cannot seem to manage digital anything. So many that it is a Thing, and bus services have been set up for weekly runs to towns with banks.
posted by likeso at 2:51 AM on July 15, 2012


Whoooooo cares?!
posted by XhaustedProphet at 3:01 AM on July 15, 2012


Well, you will, when you are older/incapacitated/otherwise excluded from technology necessary for accomplishing daily tasks. Such as paying your rent.
posted by likeso at 3:42 AM on July 15, 2012


"Figure out" how to pay his bills?

Get the hell off my lawn.
posted by DU at 3:50 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I already know how to write checks and pay my rent, technology or no technology. That's like saying I won't know how to add/subtract without a calculator. Please don't take away my microwave or I wouldn't know how to feed myself!
posted by XhaustedProphet at 3:54 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find this kind of interesting.

When the internet goes down I feel lost at first. I don't have instant access to everything I need to know or constant available distraction. It bothers me for a bit.

Then my life slows down. I start feeling like I have time. I don't have to respond to email. I don't have to read articles. I don't have open tabs to close. It's like going for a walk except at home. I notice things. Sounds. Spaces. Things. In my own flat. Stuff that is peripheral when I am on the internet becomes foreground suddenly.

There is some strange psychology there I don't quite have a grasp on. Much like I feel weird when I talk about the internet to other people in IRL. It is jarring as well in the opposite way. Like it is intruding.

I can't imagine doing it for a year. I can't imagine doing it for longer than a week.

The closest comparison I can come up with is the second month of grade school summer vacation.
posted by srboisvert at 4:12 AM on July 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


Yeah, but here's the thing: cheques are on their way out. You can still request an acceptgiro instead of using direct debit to pay bills, but it's trending down. And in order to set up automatic payments, you need to have Internet access or a physical branch.

Additional non-Internet wrinkle: cash. Without a local branch, or even an ATM in some cases, lesser-mobile and Internet-challenged folks are resorting to IOU's at local stores that don't have PIN machines. Next stop, bartering.
posted by likeso at 4:16 AM on July 15, 2012


My dad doesn't have actual internet access at home. He had dial-up for a long time. Recently, he got an iPad with 3G and ditched the dial-up. The iPad gets most of its use when he travels for work--he checks email once a day and the movie listings every so often. I actually kind of like going there. Despite living in the middle of the city, there's no unprotected Wi-Fi lying around (the Subway next door had Wi-Fi, but it disappeared). But I really don't need to check my email a zillion times a day or spend a load of time on MeFi. Not doing so is nice.

My dad sits down once a week or so and writes the bills. When my brother first got an apartment, my mom discovered he was doing the same thing because he thought that's what people did. It apparently never occurred to him that my mom paid bills some other way (he probably assumed she wrote checks while he was asleep or something). Granted, my brother also assumed the way you buy plane tickets is to go to the American Airlines website and pay whatever they ask. (Which is what you did for most of his pre-college flying because AA had the only flight. But somehow he never noticed those times we went other places on other airlines.)

Yeah, but here's the thing: cheques are on their way out. You can still request an acceptgiro instead of using direct debit to pay bills, but it's trending down. And in order to set up automatic payments, you need to have Internet access or a physical branch.

I think, though, that this is a phenomenon of countries others than the United States. For the most part, we haven't discovered the acceptgiro yet (if I understood correctly from Wikipedia what it is). You can pay by check or credit card (sometimes) by mail, pay online or set up automatic payment with a debit card. I do have a credit card that lets you do direct debit, but I think none of my other bills do. Oh, and I can pay the university using direct debit online. I think we're a long way from checks being on their way out here.
posted by hoyland at 5:26 AM on July 15, 2012


Does anybody remember back around 2000 or so when journalists were writing stunt articles about living for a month with ONLY Internet access?

Good times, good times...
posted by briank at 6:01 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe without the Internet he can communicate like the rest of us, namely by sending letters to the Prussian consulate in Siam by aeromail on the 4:30 autogyro.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:23 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think, though, that this is a phenomenon of countries others than the United States.

True enough. And meant to link to (accept)giro, sorry! Which is how everybody here used to pay their bills, though now if you still want to, you're often charged a fee. Personal cheques as used in the US were never as popular and our version is just about dead: Eurocheques, RIP January 1, 2002.

/modern personal banking derail
posted by likeso at 6:26 AM on July 15, 2012


So do that many people pay their monthly bill online? We* do but usually when I mention that fact the person I said it to says, "oh I'd never trust that" or "I'd never figure out how to do that".

*when I say "we" I actually mean "my wife" since she deals with the bill paying.
posted by octothorpe at 6:50 AM on July 15, 2012


So do that many people pay their monthly bill online?

We pay our bills using all avenues available. Some by check. Some online. Some by phone. A few are direct-withdrawal. It really comes down to what's available and how the cash-flow is.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:08 AM on July 15, 2012


You know, bill-pay by phone is just not as hard as he makes it out to be. You really don't have to just jam on 0 to get results. You just have to be patient. For a while, between the time I got sick of sending checks all the time and the time a couple more utilities here started offering online bill-pay, I used bill-pay by phone almost exclusively for anything not automatically taken out of my bank account. That's how I memorized my credit-card number, by having phone robots repeat it back to me three or four times a month.
posted by limeonaire at 9:02 AM on July 15, 2012


I'm pretty well aware "which aspects [of the internet] are truly valuable, [and] which are distractions for me" without giving it up for a year. Very little of it is truly valuable, but I admit I would be sad to no longer have the world-wide shopping options, contact with out-of-town friends, and quick access to encyclopedia-type information.

I don't think any aspects are "corrupting my very soul" these days but perhaps I am deluded. I did got through a pretty rough time with some aspects of the internet, but that was more than ten years ago, and I've matured and learned to disengage a lot since then.

I think, if you've integrated the internet completely into your life, it can be surprising to hear about people who don't even have a computer, but I suspect there are more of them out there than we hear about (on the internet.)

The university I work for discarded printed schedules and catalogs quite a few years ago. Student's registration, bills, financial aid, and grades are mostly limited to an on-line interface now. So I deal with students a few times a year who don't have computers and am at a bit of a loss how to ensure they're getting the information they need. These are often older students, or ones from impoverished backgrounds and they're already at a disadvantage, without being cut off from information and services they need for their education.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:59 AM on July 15, 2012


He has a point about Diablo III. A person ought to be able to play offline against the computer for his/her own enjoyment.

China Promoting Illegal Diablo III Crack
posted by homunculus at 10:03 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


acidic: "Wow, he's just ASKING for someone to sell him some super-questionable food, knowing that he'll be unable to ask the Internet if it's safe to eat."

Five pounds of poop fish is on the way.
posted by Splunge at 11:16 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


It always amuses me how some younger people paying bills by check was a form of great suffering that they have been liberated from. It wasn't that bad! You wrote out the checks, put them in the envelope, and mailed them. Maybe you'd have to buy stamps, in a worst-case scenario.
posted by thelonius at 6:29 PM on July 15, 2012


It's Internet Forever for me, but when I described the Offline project to my teen, she speculated that she could go a week without it, no more. And I still pay the water bill in person since there's a nice fountain out there.
posted by dragonplayer at 6:55 PM on July 15, 2012


I wish I could pay bills using the internet. I live in NYC in 2012 and yet every month I still need to handwritte out a paper check for my rent and put it into an envelope with a stamp and mail it.
Your bank's free bill-pay service will do exactly this for you. You tell them who to make the check out to, where to send it, for how much, and when, and then you forget about it forever. If your bank doesn't have free bill pay, it's time to find a new bank.
posted by !Jim at 7:18 PM on July 15, 2012


Is it my imagination, or do we get into this "how do people pay for stuff in the US / everywhere else?" discussion about every two weeks?
posted by Chrysostom at 8:45 PM on July 15, 2012


Your bank's free bill-pay service will do exactly this for you.

Yea but most banks will debit the money from your account as soon as you request the check but of course not credit the receiver's account until they deposit it. A physical check in the mail doesn't effect your account until it actually gets deposited. It's not a big deal for us since we have some buffer but if you're tight on money, it can be a big deal.
posted by octothorpe at 8:47 PM on July 15, 2012


I wish I could pay bills using the internet. I live in NYC in 2012 and yet every month I still need to handwritte out a paper check for my rent and put it into an envelope with a stamp and mail it.
Your bank's free bill-pay service will do exactly this for you. You tell them who to make the check out to, where to send it, for how much, and when, and then you forget about it forever. If your bank doesn't have free bill pay, it's time to find a new bank.
Even Bank of America, evilest of evils, does this for free with my (still a student despite having graduated nearly a decade ago) checking account.
posted by kdar at 9:33 PM on July 15, 2012


Kind of a shame people are focusing on the 'OMG how will he live without internet banking' aspect of this, as it's not really been the main thing he's been writing about. In the main it's been some interesting writing about the thought patterns and habits that perpetual connectivity creates in people and in that regard it's caused me to take some hard looks at how I use the web.

That said I've got about four of these articles in my Instapaper queue to read, because, y'know, somehow the day just gets away from me and I don't read them. Which I guess is pretty much his point.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:26 AM on July 16, 2012


Whenever possible, I recommend that people AVOID their bank's bill-pay service. Your bank is not the one mailing out the check; they pay some other company to do it for them.

You may trust your bank, but do you trust this third party service? Which you don't know what business it is, because your bank isn't going to tell you?

These services have a surprisingly high rate of failure. And when the process fails, you are out the money, your creditor is out the money, and it can take weeks or months to be resolved.

In the mean time, your creditor may have stopped your phone, cable, health care, or car insurance, evicted you, whatever. Not to mention late fees. Which your bank doesn't care about; they will have washed their hands of the matter.

I had a rent payment go missing, and it was kind of a nightmare. Luckily my property management company was understanding, because "we see this all the time." Nevar Again!
posted by ErikaB at 10:57 AM on July 16, 2012


Yeah, I trust them. It's never gone badly wrong in my 3 years of using the service to pay all of my bills.

You're not going to get evicted or have your service cut-off before they call to ask why you haven't paid your bill. And it doesn't take months, or more than a single week to resolve, you just cut them a new check.

If your bank repeatedly fails at this, it is time to find a new bank. There's no need to avoid living in the modern age because of a crappy provider.
posted by !Jim at 10:23 PM on July 16, 2012


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