Anyone that has stable access to the internet has undoubtedly become dependent on it. I know for certain that I have. But at the same time, I'm always thinking about how I can eliminate my need for it, and reduce my dependency on it. I don't want to be dependent on the internet—I don't know that anyone does—but what are the alternatives? Most people don't even know anymore. The internet has become a sort of "necessary evil," but is it really necessary at all? I suppose, for some tasks, maybe it is. But for the sorts of tasks that I do, I don't really need the internet most of the time. In fact, I'm usually the last in my family to notice that the internet is out when it happens to go out at our house.
I'm writing this blog post on my laptop on a long car trip with my family. My laptop, of course, runs OpenBSD, and I'm writing on the TTY in vi(1) to save battery. This is one of my many workflows that has no dependence on the internet at all. I can write as much as I want, and then when I get an internet connection, I can push my posts to my server. This is probably a rather unfamiliar process to most people, but it works great.
Most of the content I consume is available on my server or an external hard drive. I download everything I come across that I don't want to lose, so when I'm offline, reading books and listening to music is just as easy as it is if I were online. I'm not dependent on Spotify or any other online service that provides media for consumption. I just have everything locally, and that serves me well.
I understand that some things inherently require an internet connection, such as sharing files and sending emails. But other than that, almost everything can be done offline. If there's a website to do something, there's most likely a native software tool to do the same thing. Take Google Calendar, for example. Or Google Keep. Both of those can be replaced with offline calendar and note taking software. And you can even sync these calendars and notes with other devices. OpenBSD has working alternatives to both of these products built right into the system.
I won't enumerate too many examples, but this general rule has held true for me for just about everything I've needed to do. Of course, I admit that what I need to do isn't much, but I like it that way. As I've detailed in previous posts, I am an extreme minimalist when it comes to technology. And that's the point of this post. It's to bring attention to how complicated the internet has made our lives. Social media brings so much drama and emotion. Google Drive locks away our files on a far away server that we can't access when our internet service provider goes down for a little while.
If you strip all this away, you're left with just a computer. What can this computer do? Is it enough for you? My computer can do math, edit documents, play music and videos, and let me play games. What more could you really want? Anything else beyond tasks similar to these is superfluous; the things we think we need are more just things that we are addicted to but should be able to survive just fine without. Sure, it would be nice if I could connect to my server right now to push a few blog posts and configure some virtual machines for school, but at the end of the day, if all I had were my laptop, and no internet connection, I'd not only survive, but thrive, because all the essentials are still present with me. My server is just for convenience, it isn't something I've come to depend on having access to.
What if we could achieve this sort of independence from other internet services? What would happen if we started using our computers as computers again, instead of just clients to someone else's computer 1? Over the past few months, that's exactly what I've set out to do. And now, going on vacation, that has been temporarily taken to the extreme. And it is working.
Last summer, the summer I graduated high school, my family took an 11 day trip out west. We toured Arizona and Utah, visiting as many national and state parks as we could. In those 11 days, we put 1,300 miles on our rental car and stayed in at least 8 different hotels. What was interesting for me about this trip though, was that I brought no electronic devices. I replaced my phone with a pocket Bible and a small notebook, and I didn't have my laptop at all. I went the entire trip without even thinking about technology. I simply enjoyed the scenery, and wrote my musings down in my notebook. I read, and thought. And I marveled at how much clearer my mind was during that time. I was not distracted at all, and was able to maintain a focus unlike anything I've ever known.
That wasn't the first time I'd gone a prolonged period of time without an internet connection. For a class in high school, we had to write a paper on a project. The prompt for the project was simply to make a significant lifestyle change that drastically affects the way you do things. For me, it was obvious that, as a general computer geek, I was to give up electronics for a week. I enjoyed it so much, that this experience is what prompted me to give up technology on our summer trip. Ever since then, I've been dramatically cutting down on my dependence on the internet. I think I'll always want to have a computer around, but I want it to be self-sufficient, not dependent on the internet or anything else.
To achieve this goal, I've since switched from Linux, and all its package dependencies and complicated software 2 to OpenBSD, which has a package repository only about 70GB in size, compared to the 900+GB repository of Ubuntu. I've started eliminating complex server software that I used to run, such as Matrix, Nextcloud, and Gitea, and I've replaced them with simpler alternatives, such as email, NFS, and CVS. All this because there is value in decreasing our dependence on computers.
In one of my previous posts, I detailed how untrustworthy technology is. This is perhaps the greatest motivation I have for being digitally independent, but I also think there is something to be said about just giving up modern conveniences and living a simple life in a society that is becoming increasingly complex and pampered. It requires a certain discipline, certainly, but it also alleviates so much pressure and stress. For me, it's easy to get caught up in the intricacies of my home network. I always have to make sure my family has a reliable internet connection, and I am always tinkering with something on my server. But when all of those burdens are lifted from me in an environment like a long car ride, where it is just me and a laptop. I am able to think more clearly, and maintain a deeper focus on a single thing for longer periods of time.
And I don't think pressure and stress is something that comes just from my hobbies. I think a lot of people use computers in a way that adds pressure and stress to their lives. Social media is a huge one, for sure. I see people at my university becoming constantly overwhelmed by things that are happening on social media, and then they become overwhelmed with their school work because too much mental space is being spend on drama. I have the incredible privilege of being disciplined enough to not be on social media, so I can't speak too much as to how this must really feel, but it is fairly apparent in the way my peers conduct themselves.
We have practically unlimited access to anything we could ever want, but the question is, do we need this? In my post on anxiety, I explored how more information tends to only increase our fear and stress. As much as I value education—and I want to go on the record saying that I do think everyone should strive to grow in their understanding of the world—I think there is a distinct benefit to simplifying our lives by eliminating our dependence on the internet.
There is nothing wrong with living a simple life in which you have mental clarity. Being a university student, I know firsthand how busy life can get, and it really wears on a person after just a short time. I know that there is more to life than just the daily activities that repeat themselves week by week and month by month. I know that we were not meant to be so stressed out and anxious. Our brains were not meant to handle the sheer volume of information we come across every single day.
Life without the internet is a step in the right direction. If you were to shut off your internet connection right now, and never turn it back on, what would you lose?
You might lose your pictures, and your documents. You'd probably lose a lot of information on the people closest to you, such as their birthdays and addresses. You might even lose access to the software you need to make your computer even remotely useful. This is a very real problem, but it doesn't have to be this way. I have all my pictures, documents, contacts, and software stored locally. Even now, on the road, hours away from our house and a hotel, I can access all of this crucial information without any of the distractions that the internet brings.
So I ask again, what would you lose if you gave up your internet connection? And what are you going to do about it?
That's all the internet is, really: someone else's computer. The more you depend on the internet, the less control you have over your stuff. ↩
Like systemd. I remember when systemd was a simple init program and service manager. But it slowly started creeping into other parts of the system like networking and screen locking. It eventually got absurd because things that used to be accomplished with simple commands were now only possible through editing obscure configuration files buried deep in the file hierarchy and then reloading at least three systemd daemons, or even rebooting the system. ↩
© 2019-2023 Jordan Bancino.