I’ve been re-adjusting my life to unplugging from the network. This is not one of those techno-isolation trips, done in some latter-day Christian mystic Transcendentalist notion of re-establishing balance to one’s informational life by means of putting one’s devices in a plastic bag for a week and walking in the park. This is, instead, an unwanted divorce from the network for economic reasons. Having an iPhone has become too expensive for me, and so I have downgraded to a pay-per-month regular cell phone (it’s a RAZR, which is amusing for its last-generation cutting edgeness). With no internet at home (thanks, Century Link for having an unacceptable service level causing me to embargo your requests to pay the double-charged bill you will not adjust correctly), and temporarily being forestalled from getting a planned mobile broadband hotspot by T-Mobile’s insipid economic red-lining (i.e. a $400 deposit due to my credit), this means I only have a few hours a day online, when I’m at the coffee shop or other work space.
Which is a harsh adjustment, for a person who has already migrated to the cloud, and quite liked it. I’ve been using an iPhone for the past three and a half years. I use a Chromebook. The cloud made me portable, light-weight, and completely flexible. I was online near-constantly, writing, reporting, and managing various other Occupy Portland tasks, communicating with friends and colleagues all across the world in many time zones. This is the extent of the plug that has been pulled.
But I’m finding ways of adjusting. One does adapt to economic straits. The interesting thing is that it is doable. There are ways. Here’s how I’ve been doing it so far.
Apps that sync is the key. After ignoring ScratchPad, a little Chrome OS app that came with my ChromeBook, I’ve discovered that it now allows you to write a Google Doc fully offline, including a certain amount of formatting, and then sync this Doc when your computer re-connects to the internet.
Instapaper is, as always, truly one of the best iOS apps around. (I still have the iPhone, but no SIM card, so it is basically a fat iPod Touch.) When I am near a Wifi zone, I open up the app to let it sync its read/unread tallies and download fresh articles. Off network, it functions as normal.
Net News Wire does the same thing for my Google Reader feed. The trouble is being able to share articles back and forth between my RSS feed and Instapaper, and then from either of these to Twitter, all of which requires a live network connection. For these tasks, email is the key. Email–that most defunct of network activities! Emailing a link to my private Instapaper email address will sync that article as soon as I re-connect to the network, and my email Outbox sends all those messages that were composed while offline. I haven’t found a way to send an email that converts into a Tweet yet.
As far as email goes, handling it once a day is something that many efficiency tips recommend, and so far it is working for me. Email Time is the first 30 minutes after I re-connect with the network. Frankly, I’m kind of surprised I ever gave it much more time than that.
I do miss being able to be on Twitter at odd times of the night, when sitting at home with nothing to do. However, I’ve enabled the ability to send a message to Twitter via SMS, and so now I tweet blindly into the night, carefully tapping out 140 character messages on my RAZR. I don’t receive any tweets that way, as that would be disastrous for my SMS plan. It’s kind of fun this way, more like graffiti. I leave messages, and don’t get feedback until I re-connect to the network, sometimes twenty-four hours later. And if you want to talk about “Old Twitter”, well, this is how the service was originally designed to be used.
I’ve also hooked up Google Voice, though I’m not sure exactly how that benefits me off-network. There isn’t any way to receive chats or emails via SMS or phone yet. However, from a schematic point of view, it does serve to remind me that my regular old cell phone is a tiny funnel for communication when I am offline. When I’m back on the network, suddenly my phone becomes superfluous, as the computer is my phone; I call and text straight from the browser. The phone is merely a handset, and the network is the main channel of communication. I don’t know if, like the email efficiencies I’m forced to apply, this will end up being a benefit or not. But, at least it seems to be all part of the process, which I’m forced to accept whether I like it or not.
All of this seems to break down the networked communication I’ve come to expect into its basic components. I’ve been so used to App-For-That thinking, and user-friendly API integration, that I forgot what the basic components of networked communication is all about. It’s about the information: either short bits of communicative text, or a link that will take you to more information later. Emails and hyperlinks. I’m restoring the mental schematic of packets to my networked communication. Each email, link, and SMS is a packet. If I can work out how to make sure the packets arrive where they are supposed to, even if it is delayed, then the network continues to flow.