Living Offline
© 27 Jul 2016 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
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Reflections on some benefits of not having Internet in the home.


Almost three years ago I decided to try living my life without Internet access at home. On the whole I have been very please with the result. I am no Luddite: I have Internet in the office, at church, and when traveling and I have multiple computers and tablets in my home, but when I am at home none of them connect to the Internet. I have found that this makes life simpler and more pleasant than it was during my always-online years.

Some of the benefits of an offline home I predicted coming in. I knew I would be less distracted, more focused and productive, and that I would have more predictable interactions with my colleagues and students. I think I might have even become more consistent in answering email: because I have limited hours online each day, I am forced to schedule times to read all me email rather than reading some in the moment and putting others it off indefinitely.

But other benefits surprised me. Among these is the impact of local copies.

I knew, right from the beginning, that there were some online resources that I would want to access when offline. The documentation of my favorite languages, for example; maps of my local community; podcasts and blogs and vlogs and books; standards I hoped to reference in some of my work for FHISO; that sort of thing. So I pulled out wget and cURL and httrack and downloaded some of these sites; I wrote my own feed aggregator in Python and later a few more downloaders in D. Upshot: I had some of the Internet even when offline.

Except, it didn’t stay just “‍part of the Internet‍”. When you have all of the data on your own personal hard drive, you have freedom. Freedom to reformat texts, for example, changing indentation and so on to help understand the content, a technique I have found very useful in studying scripture. Freedom to use grep and sed to search flexibly instead of relying on the often disappointingly incomplete or cluttered results that site searches and web search engines provide. Freedom to annotate and organize my favorite episodes from various podcasts however I see fit, not constrained by the (usually very limited) tools provided by the source site. At this point, there are many online resources I much prefer using in an offline way even when I am online.

However, there is another benefit I never expected. I first noticed it when using my offline etymology dictionary. I am a big fan of etymonline, but for all of the thousands of words I’ve looked up there I never really browsed it For example, online I likely would have looked up “‍online‍”, seen little of note, and stopped. Offline I spent another ten seconds and noticed that the gap between “‍line‍” and “‍off-line‍” in the rail trade (1825 to 1926) was almost exactly the same as the gap between “‍ropes‍” and “‍on the ropes‍” in boxing (1829 to 1924).
What is unclear is if I should be happy that my taste for etymology trivia is so easily satisfied now or not.
. When you browse online you either have to scroll through a big list of entries or you have to type a search and wait for the server to respond. It’s not a long wait; I didn’t even notice it until I had an offline etymology dictionary to consult. The dictionary I got did not have a very good interface built into it, but after a hour of tinkering I ended up with a system that can show me etymologies as fast as I can type. That change caused me to start interacting with it in a browsing way, jumping from entry to entry at a pace and with a freedom that no online dictionary could ever permit.

I am a big fan of technology, and I love the vast scope of information that the Internet makes available, but I also am very glad, in many concrete ways, that the Internet stays out of my house.

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