A year without the internet

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 22 December 2006

The Christmas holiday is often used as a time of reflection in the media, spawning endless charts of the year, predictions for the future, and a desperate grasp to try and pull the previous 12 months into some kind of coherent narrative thread. So, in what has been quite an exceptional year for me, here is mine.

Over the weekend it was the first anniversary of leaving the UK with my wife, and setting out on the travel adventure that took us to Crete, and then on to Austria. We celebrated over the weekend with a champagne breakfast amongst the rooftops of Salzburg, and by starting to re-publish the diaries from our travels on our own site instead of on the frankly unusable Yahoo! 360° service we were trying out at the time.

It was quite a co-incidence that via LinkMachineGo yesterday I spotted this future warning sign.

20061222_internet.gif

That is beacuse the first anniversary of leaving the UK also marked the anniversary of somthing else - a year since I had a fixed internet connection in my home. The first four months were spent travelling, then we spent six months in a flat in Greece where we couldn't even get an analogue phone line let alone broadband, and now we are staying in a hostel just outside Salzburg with no internet.

It is quite astonishing to think that as someone who has a life and career that pretty much revolves around being online, I've been offline for the majority of the year. Of course, I'm online all day in the office now, but prior to that, for ten months I had been online at most for a couple of hours a day. And even with the 8 hours a day of internet access I'm getting at the moment, Sony are not paying me simply to surf.

In some ways spending so much time offline has helped hone my work practices. Now I tend to use my online time as research periods, gathering URLs, quotes and screengrabs about whatever I think I might be going to write about, and then writing about it later. This has the advantage that what I write is generally done after a period of mulling over a subject, rather than typed out in haste. I don't expect you'll ever see much breaking news on currybetdotnet whilst this situation prevails.

And it isn't as though I haven't been able to publish regularly of course. Since starting it in March, between my wife and myself, we've written over 400 posts on 'A lemon tree of our own', and I've posted on currybetdotnet nearly every single weekday since reactivating this blog back in April.

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I still find though, that there is a lot of much-hyped online culture that is almost completely passing me by.

I must be one of the last remaining people on the planet to have ever used the internet and not watched the OK Go treadmill video, since I never had much time to mess about with YouTube, except when I was doing some research on audio/video search. I finally had a long session mooching around the site the other week, but then got into trouble for hogging a local hotel's bandwidth.

I've got a UK Nova account, but I mostly use it for looking at what I could have downloaded if I had a sustained enough connection to the internet for any length of time.

I've never tried Twitter - no point, since most of the time when I could be writing something amusing or witty I'm offline. Setting my status to "Now I'm going offline for 14 hours" every night at 6:30pm Austrian time doesn't sound much like social networking fun.

People have connected to my Last FM profile, but I haven't been able to upload any data on anything I've played since December 11th 2005, so my phases of obsessively listening to Franz Ferdinand, The Strokes, Kate Bush, Idlewild, Elvis Costello or the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City soundtrack and others over the last year have all gone unnoticed, and done nothing to alter my profile.

I've only made about three posts to collective all year. The Chania section on Wikitravel remains resolutely unfilled, despite my now detailed knowledge of the subject. My Wikipedia watch list grows and grows, but the frequency of my contributions shrinks - I've even roughly translated the German Shloss Anif page ready to make a brand new English language version, but have failed to post it.

And there is the sheer inconvenience of being offline most of the time. When we get stuck on a game, instead of automatically leaping online for a walk-through, we have to switch to playing something else, and hope I remember where we were properly the next day in order to find the right bit of the walk-through to download.

Wake up in the middle of the night and want to know the score in the Ashes? Forget it. Although that might have been a blessing I suppose.

Regular readers will also know that this access drought has had me griping about the fact that a lot of software expects ubiquitous web access as a backbone of operation. I'd been travelling for about two months when I connected my laptop back to the web for the first time in a fantastic internet cafe in Prague. I think at the time I described it something like watching a smoker who had been on a long-haul flight grasping for a fag. I spent the first 45 minutes of that online session simply sitting and watching progress bar after progress bar as various bits of Windows and software got their first chance to dial home and update for weeks.

I do believe though that the experience has been beneficial in some ways. I have a greater awareness of how easy it is for people within my industry to just assume that everyone is always on, all of the time, and consequently build products that don't behave gracefully offline, or gracefully when you don't have your own cookies, choice of browser settings, or only have two minutes left of an internet cafe session and you desperately need to complete a booking.

It has also certainly tempered my utopian "jetpacks and hover-car" vision of how the internet is going to transform the society of the future - apprently even I can just about get along swimmingly without it.

Well, in 16 hours stretches at least!

1 Comment

Oh, I sure do hope you get around to filling in the (C)Hania article on Wikitravel sooner rather than later!

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