The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Mini Electronic Vacations

All right, this off-topic and not the sort of thing I usually write, but may be of use to some people.

Oddly despite being “very online” I’m sort of a luddite about certain things. I didn’t have a smart phone till 2015 (and at the time had no cell phone). A friend gave me my first one, and my second is a very nice hand-me down Pixel 4 from another friend.

As a rule I don’t take my phone with me when I go out. I get by on cards. Of course, sometimes I need my phone or a laptop, especially when traveling, but otherwise, they’re not on me.

I do this because I want periods when I’m not online, and not available to anyone. In particular, I often hang out at coffee shops and unless I have specific work I want to do, I don’t take any electronic devices with me except my e-reader. I often pack some paper books and a writing pad, and that’s it. I take notes on paper, and keep the notebooks.

I find this relaxing. It’s nice to not be online and it’s easiest if the device isn’t even with me: if it is, I may think “I should check…” and get sucked in. It’s simply a matter of making a habit unavailable. There’s rarely anything in my life so urgent it can’t wait a few hours.

Of course, I’m in my 50s. I grew up before cell phones. I remember before answering machines, even, and when pagers were rare and only truly essential, 24 hour on-call workers carried them.

I’m used to being out of touch. In a sense, I’m used to being alone. You can be very alone, even when surrounded by people in a big city, if you want to be, and I often do.

The studies are clear: social media is bad for you, and the more you do the worse it is. Being constantly connected, I’m almost certain, is likewise bad for you. You need space, you need time with your own feelings and thoughts when they’re not being jerked around. And if you want to think well, you need time to think alone as well in addition to time to think with other people.

This is, I guess, more of the sort of article written in lifestyle magazines and sections “how I spent 1 week unplugged” and whatnot, but I really do believe it’s healthy and if you can do it, you’ll find, once you get over the twitchy need to constantly check your phone or watch videos, or whatever you do, that it’s relaxing. It’s also a necessity for any sort of deep thinking.



Ontario’s Mass Murdering “Top Doctor”


Open Thread


  1. Trinity

    I take my phone with me when I go out (which has to be in a car) in case something happens. It’s just a phone with a 1×1.5 inch screen. They told me it has the same processing power as a smart phone, in a flip phone case. I still have never owned a smart phone with a big screen. I navigate with directions written on paper. It’s hit or miss with my phone as far as call quality goes, though. They do a good job screening junk calls, however. I think I mentioned on here that it found my wifi, and somehow knew my wifi password, and connected itself. I manually disconnected it, but this still ticks me off.

    I also had an auto payment set up with my bank, which I could and did cancel. The next thing I know, it was turned back on! I got an email notice that it had been scheduled again! I could turn it off again, but this is beyond creepy, causing unnecessary stress and having to do this extra work, too. I need to switch banks. My current bank was recently bought by private equity. I’m not surprised by this, but their fingers seem to reach very, very deep indeed.

    I do have and use an iPad (no cell, just Wi-Fi), I like watching movies on it. I have no notifications for anything except the alarm clock and timers. It seems every app wants you to turn on notifications, with constant reminders to turn them on if they are off, for what amounts to really unimportant events. I can’t imagine having a device that dings all the time, that would drive me crazy. Or trying to manage it all.

    I was trying to explain to my younger coworkers that it’s quite possible to live a life without all this junk. And it is junk. Before all this nonsense, we lived much fuller, more satisfying lives. No one I know seems to remember this. An acquaintance of mine told me that her parents still have a land line, with a rotary dial. She said it drives her nuts watching them dial. I said the call quality is probably better than mine. Good for them.

    I reconnected with a friend from elementary school a few years ago. She didn’t want to talk on the phone. All she does is send text messages, all day, every day. That’s how she wants to stay in touch, and all she sends are texts about every minutiae happening in her life. I just can’t do that. That would drive me nuts, too. It’s probably easier with a smart phone, I guess. I wonder if the ability to even have a conversation will be lost.

  2. Bill H.

    Indeed. Rational thought requires effort, and you cannot do it when you are conversing with another person, or are reading what another person wrote. You need alone time to examine what is happening around you and determine whether or not it is rational.

  3. Bukko Boomeranger

    I’m with you on the Luddism, Ian. I have a mobile phone (dumbphone that cost me $50 Australian when I bought it in 2016; my total phone hardware expense in the past six years, instead of the hundreds that people spend for each new iPhone) I also have two smartphones, acquired in various free ways. But I never use them. Almost never carry my phone outside the house, unless I’m expecting a specific call, because my sense of privacy means I don’t like the idea of leaving an electronic trail of wherever I went. (Which is part of the reason I try to pay for everything in cash, too. I have no paranoid fear that the .gov is surveilling me specifically — I just prefer the Greta Garbo approach of “I vant to be left alone.”) “Never had a bar” (as they say Down Undahere) of Fakebook, Instascam or similar antisocial media, either.

    It’s been barely a generation that mobile phones, especially the computerised Internet communication types, have been in the hands of the masses. It’s amazing how much they have affected the basic operations of society, and indeed, the human brain. Nobody finds it necessary to remember anything any more. It’s all there on the phone! Who needs to understand directions on how to find an address? Let the GPS voice tell you. The phenomenon of people sitting next to each other, not talking, but texting back and forth between themselves, has often been remarked upon. What amazes me most is that so many people are hardly aware of the world around them any more. Their total attention is on a 5-cm square screen, instead of their environment. Humanity has become like the apocryphal ostrich with its head in the sand.

    While I am in awe of the information that one can have at one’s fingertips through the Internet — I’m a news junkie — it’s sad that phones have shrunk the mental frame that people have. I live in a great city with many noteworthy sites, but so many folks are staring at their hands instead of regarding the wonders around them. You’re not the one who’s out of touch — the screen zombies are.

  4. StewartM

    I hate mobile phones, but for another reason: locked-down devices that track where you are and where your ability to change the settings are limited (like, setting the volume controls, turning off stupid alerts (amber alerts are the most pointless), etc). I also have my phone to be completely silent–not rings or vibrations when I get calls or texts–so it doesn’t distract me when I am doing something else.

    Ian: do you think that social media is bad by itself, or do you think it’s our current corporatist version of it that’s bad? Facebook and its ilk are wastelands, for sure, and I’m not on it for that reason, but I have met good friends I did not have before via old now-defunct blogspheres that used to exist. And before those, there was usenet. IMHO, the internet was so much better before it was corporatized.

  5. joe

    My grandfather was said to have told my grandmother
    Why do you want a telephone in the house it will just be ringing all the time.
    That was around 1948. How right he was.

  6. different clue

    I am not a Luddite. I am just a late adopter. Or a deeply inertial not-yet adopter.

    I don’t have a cell phone because cell phones cause cancer. ( Laugh now, learn later).
    I still have my copper landline phone, which I will keep till the Phone Company decides to abolish landlines and tear the very last copper line out of the very last wall. ( I will eventually get a dumm cellphone for old people . . . a cricket or a jitterbug or something like that.)

    I used to have Cable TV, but when the Cable Company began degrading service and offerings ( cancelling CBC, then cancelling every CSPAN, etc.) I let that lapse.

    I read computer at my workplace or at the public library. Someday I will get a real computer of my very own. ( If I do, I hope they don’t kill-switch the internet for good on the very day I get my very own computer out of the box.)

    I still pay all my bills by check and land mail. Support your local Post Office!

    A digital vacation is good introductory training for Life Without Digital. Some people might move on from there to divide their life into two halves . . . the Survival half and the Entertainment/Engagement/etc. half. They might learn to live the Survival half in a strictly analog manner . . . . removing all the digital ticks, lice and cooties from their food, water, indoor heat and cool, etc. supply as best they can. And keep living digital for TV, music, computerizing, etc. People who do that will be better prepared to keep surviving when the whole digital world fails and goes down.

    Analog technology is still technology. As Charles Walters once pointed out in the pages of Acres USA, a clamshell tied to the end of a big stick for hoeing with . . . is still technology.

  7. Willy

    I never do autopay. Not since this Golds gym I’d joined back in my traveling gig days refused to let me cancel when my employment went out of state. Apparently in that place, you’d have to throw a loudly public fit inside the gym, disturbing to the other members, before they’d give you the cancellation papers.

    I never Google. Not since they suckered me into giving them my personal Gmail and Youtube commenter information which they then freely share with anybody willing to pay to learn all they could about me.

    I never give out my serious email to just anybody. Not since I gave it to Home Depot after a purchase and then started ‘winning’ all manner of prizes from outfits I’d never heard of, on the condition I’d just answer a few personal questions. My Gmail is now a low pri account for spam and loose acquaintances.

    I too was hopeful that information tech would make human society better. But I think all it did was get people to double down on whatever they were before the tech. Sure, some scientists got to become even more sciencey. But suckers became even worse suckers. Greedy people got even greedier. And people into random bits of low information became full-on informational bottom feeders.

  8. anon y'mouse

    the current state of tech is degraded. the owners will not be happy until we have a dumb terminal broadcasting advertising and propaganda they select at us all the livelong day. about 10 years ago, this was not the case. you could even use google to search for things and find them!

    the internet has expanded my world in many ways. i spent a long time looking at art, reading about things and thinking with it but that is now coming to an end since the owners are not content to let you read, think and hear anything that someone has put out there. Russia was an early adopter and put lots of their museum collections online, photos from their landmarks and so forth. recently i was digging on some 3d reproductions of Rome in about 300 AD, and the Athenian acropolis. since i’ll certainly never be able to afford to travel to Athens, Rome of today nor Russia i count this time well spent.

    i also used my netflix and now my prime memberships to watch everything considered a classic, a cult film and even delved through a lot of garbage to find the gems available. of course, there’s no one to experience these things with. the online life is a solo life and now it’s becoming a dumb life because the owners long realized the cat they let out of the bag and are quickly stuffing that cat back in. since the internet is under their control, this will be easy to do.

    let’s just say that i don’t look forward to going to the library. the last time i went there, they had almost no books except what was popular. research? to laugh. you end up using the online resources there anyway because they can’t justify hanging on to things that nearly no one checks out. yeahyeah, interlibrary loan but sometimes you might as well look for a cheap used copy and order away for that.

    the future human will be much like i have been, unfortunately—raised by the machine. i have seen many advertisements recently about online schooling. they are posing this as mostly supplemental to normal schools, but the intention for in-person school to become only available to the rich was spoken aloud back when i was in college. they couldn’t stop talking about MOOCs then, and i see they are taking the tack now of trying to get k-12 adopters.

    people will live online. taking in-person away time is valuable, but already people don’t seem to know what to do with themselves when they are in meatspace. they don’t know how to talk to each other. they don’t know how to find a mate without online swiping. my parents and grandparents met their partners in bars and clubs. who can afford that, and even if they can, do they want a free dose of covid too?

    if i was even more conspiracy brained than i am, which is barely possible, i would think that the overlords designed Covid to make the society mass adopt all of this online living that they ‘ve been salivating for for the last 20+ years. we just weren’t adopting it fast enough for their plans. which, given the problems with E-vehicles, include none of the lower orders driving. get used to seeing whatever is around you and for travel of even short distances to become difficult. somehow i think that will result in even more online “living”—the Metaverse awaits. a poor facsimile, a childish world and yet if nothing’s left around you except other stressed out and socially dysfunctional humans who also can’t afford to travel to the nearest big city and to go to concert, it becomes more understandable.

    the internet is too good for the Owners. it will be one of the last things to go. your plumbing, electricity and car can fall away when providing them to the masses becomes too expensive, but then we’ll just be like people in other 3rd world locales and live in mud and grass or cinder block huts with a glowing screen for however long we can afford to power it.

  9. Mark Pontin

    Ian Welsh: ‘Being constantly connected, I’m almost certain, is likewise bad for you. You need space, you need time with your own feelings and thoughts when they’re not being jerked around.’

    Humanity barely has put a toe in the virtual ocean and you ain’t seen nothing yet compared to where this all looks to be going. I’ve started paying some attention to the Web3, crypto community, NFT, metaverse thing. It is in many ways intensely sad.

    The vibe that the Web3 movement aspires to is the Gibson and Neal Stephenson-style ‘consensual hallucination’/metaverse.

    What it’s actually reminiscent of is Philip K. Dick’s novel ‘The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch’ and his short story ‘The Days of Perky Pat,’ in which his characters have such benighted, hopeless physical lives* that they pour all their energies into building up Ken & Barbie-style ( ‘Perky Pat’ in Dick’s story) accessorized dollhouse layouts, so they can then escape by taking a futuristic drug that enables them to hallucinate they’ve been incarnated as Perky Pat and her male companion in Perky Pat’s fantasy reality.

    *In the short story because there’s been a nuclear war, in the novel because they’ve been conscripted to be Martian colonists.

  10. Joan

    Emotionally I am ready for the world to be more analog. There are practical concerns of course; I still need to be able to access my bank account, etc. And hopefully going full analog wouldn’t come without warning, so I could text and email all my favorite people and make sure I have a mailing address to send letters and photos.

    But yeah let’s do it; it wouldn’t trouble me. Where the real problem would come is with books that only exist in digital form with no paper version. I want a world full of physical books again, but I read about one hundred ebooks a year, and I wouldn’t want those to simply poof away without a hard copy somewhere.

  11. different clue


    Now is the time for as many millions of computer-owning layfolk and “civilians” as possible to set up their own home desktop printing facilities if they haven’t already, and all those millions of people should copy-over and print-off their own personal ” best of the web” material onto acid free copying paper ( lasts for centuries) so that they will have something they think is valuable after it disappears with the disappearing internet. Between all those millions of people making their own millions of choices of what to copy onto acid free paper ( lasts for centuries), something of value may well be saved.

    They should also support their local and regional libraries if they are not too poor and beaten down by time-demands. Those who can do so might be able to slow down the ongoing rush by the digigoths and cyberbarians who have taken over the commanding heights of library management in their rush to digitize every single thing in every single library and then burn and pulp all the books, magazines, newspapers, etc ( and also destroy all the microfiches and microfilms) so that there will be no going back from the Digital Revolution. That evil goal should be thwarted, if possible.

    Also, they should buy and own all the books they personally want to see preserved in the world for their own present or future enjoyment or information. Friends-of-library book sales, withdrawn-from-circulation library book sales, etc., offer a chance to buy up these books to save them from destruction. We are currently living through the Bonfire of the Books as well as everything else we are living through. But it isn’t advertised because it isn’t ceremonial Naziform book burning. It is instead ” Aztec Sun Priest” style mass book sacrifice to feed the hungry DigiGods.

    People should do what they can to save analog information artifacts from the fires of digital destruction.

  12. different clue

    ” The digital barbarians shall not pass.”

  13. Ian Welsh


    some from column A, some from Column B. I think it’s a denuded style of conversation, and that has some negative effects, but of course our corporate owners make it worse.

  14. Chuck Mire

    The predominantly average users of social media who grew up in the digital age lack the ability to discern facts from fiction. Long form reading and research (books) are not their forte. Instead, they live online with their focus on social media snippets that proclaim to distill complex issues with many images and a few words typical of a sloganeering headline.

  15. Mark Pontin

    Chuck Mire: *The predominantly average users of social media who grew up in the digital age lack the ability to discern facts from fiction. Long form reading and research (books) are not their forte.*

    The average American already only reads at a seventh-grade level and has the critical, debating skills of a fourteen-year-old. It’s going to get interesting and that case a couple of months back of the Google engineer who claimed the chatbot he was doing a routine maintenance check on had become sentient is indicative of the way the wind is blowing.

    Chatbots and AI are getting more sophisticated. They also frequently have access to databases containing portions of the entire internet, so they can access nearly endless amounts of data—including private information about the individuals they interact with.

    That means they they’re going to be able to argue politics—or pretty much anything else—better than the average American social media denizen, who reads at seventh-grade level, and has just enough literacy and critical thinking skills to make it through the TV Guide or a shopping list.

  16. Joan

    @different clue, those are very good points! I’ve always thought that if I ever owned the place I lived in that I would invest in antique or otherwise high-quality bookshelves and start up a good library. Since I don’t have kids (or even pets) there is a bit of money left over for it, should that day ever come!

    I also taught myself book-binding during the covid lockdowns, and another area where I’d invest is in mechanical machines that help the process be more ergonomic (especially in puncturing signatures; it’s quite hard on your wrist/elbow/shoulder).

  17. StewartM

    Anony’mouse (and Ian)

    people will live online. taking in-person away time is valuable, but already people don’t seem to know what to do with themselves when they are in meatspace. they don’t know how to talk to each other. they don’t know how to find a mate without online swiping. my parents and grandparents met their partners in bars and clubs. who can afford that, and even if they can, do they want a free dose of covid too?

    Just talking personally, being old enough to have experienced social networking in both the global online community and the what was available at the local yokel venues–the online venue is much, much, better. (And, to be sure , I’ve actually met many of the people I’ve met online in real-life too, not once but multiple times, and have become close friends to them). I’d be much, much, more socially isolated if all I had was the local venues. One of the problem with Facebook is that its purpose seems to be to connect you with other locals and ‘people who know’, instead of people you don’t.

    Think of the analogy of looking to buy a good book on Amazon or another online bookstore, vs trying to dig one up at a local bookstore. Our local bookstores (even the chain ones like Barnes and Noble) are filled with rightwing crapola; it’s a shame trees had to die to produce it.

    There’s an analogy with this with school size. Yes, a small school results in an environment where everyone knows everyone else at least by name, while a large school results in an impersonal education. My high school class was not large, while my first college was huge (‘a degree factory’, I called it), so I’ve experienced both environments. However, the small school experience can be social hell for the ‘oddballs’ or outliers who end up very socially isolated, while the large school allows these to find others like themselves to connect to. As someone who has very little in common with most of my fellows here in Appalachia now, I understand the the plight of the ‘oddballs’

  18. different clue

    @Chuck Mire,

    Those pre-digital-age holdovers who are not dead yet and who have computers and know how to use a keyboard more-or-less may well retain the pre-digital-age ability to discern facts from fiction.

    Those people most of all should try to save whatever printable storable information they can from wherever they find it on the internet before it is all gone forever.

  19. different clue


    That sounds like a beautiful dream. I hope it can become real for you.

    Perhaps your bookbinding skills and machinery may become so good that you can even make a supplemental living worth the time spent doing it on binding books for others out of their own “best of the net” which they took the time to print onto acid free paper ( lasts for centuries) before it was too late.

  20. Joan

    @different clue, thanks for the well wishes! And about book-binding: I’ve done enough snooping on the book binderies that still exist in my city in Central Europe that I have an idea of how I would set it up as a small business. In my case I’d rather operate it through a post office box and take orders online through a vendor like Etsy. This would allow me to focus on printing books, rather than binding empty notebooks and things, which is what the book binders tend to focus on, and why it makes more sense for them to have a storefront so people can browse. But we’ll see! For now it doesn’t make sense to procure heavy machines as a renter. My whole life needs to be able to be packed in my suitcase and rolled onto the subway, over and over, unless I want to shell for a moving van.

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