A month off the grid. Living blindly without Internet

Usually, once in our lives, if not more than once, there’s a sentence that flutters out of our mouths without a hesitation. People have uttered this sentence in all cases of need, where they wanted something really badly but they felt as if that new book would enhance their lives or that video game would make the winter bearable or this movie would help with bringing the family together. So people say it, feeling like they really mean what they say,

It’s the sentence, “I need that.”

A dictionary has many definitions for the word need. Until October, when I decided to take up a challenge by a friend to not use any Internet for a whole month, I didn’t really understand what I needed or even why I needed it.

In September 2014, the sun speckled the ground with bursts of bright light even though the weather was cold in Chicago. I was sitting in a park with an engineer friend of mine, stealing his fries as we talked about the internship that I applied for but didn’t make. The topic nestled into the internship miss until, suddenly, he blurted out an exclamation of “oh my god, Robbie, you have GOT to read this!”

And so I did, or rather, listened, having limited vision and everything. It was an article that said that killing net neutrality would help the disabled. Verizon was saying that, if the Internet were split into a fast lane and a slow lane, disabled people would have much better Internet. Naturally, the irony wasn’t lost on me. In most cases, no matter how politically correct people wanted me to be ever since I started saying it, a good portion of the disabled populace were very poor, so the idea Verizon had was just utter nonsense.

“That’s a complete fallacy!” I spluttered, shifting my weight so my good eye could stare at Marcus full on in the face. “That’s just plain wrong!”

“I know,” he agreed, but we ranted and raved for a bit, just to make sure our thoughts were out in the open. Suddenly, though, as I was stealing a fry, he commented, “I have an idea. Why don’t I give you a challenge, you know, like a dare?” I liked the prospect of a dare so I accepted his challenge before having the intellect to ask what it was.

“Why don’t you, as a disabled person, live without the Internet for one month, and this means using Internet in schools and in libraries and the like, don’t use the Internet at all for one month.”

And that’s how it began.

Now, my memoir details my journey of living offline. Through my words and reflections, readers will know what adapting to a new kind of world is like. I was soon swept up in a different world, a world that was inaccessible to me and a world that I had to learn how adapt to, on my own since I live in an apartment complex by myself. I really did learn the difference between needing something and wanting the convenience of something.

I assumed I was going to do the everyday things that people did, such as walk outside, even though it was starting to get cold in Chicago. I thought my entries were going to be filled with sentences outlining what I did, rather than what I’d think about and declarations and observations of people. I thought that I’d write more about what I did and why I did it, rather than my observations about the Internet-less life and how it changing everything from communication to education to human interaction.

In the memoir, many aspects of life are examined. Why? Because I had a lot more free time to share with myself. The memoir is a diary that’s intimate and allows for a glimpse into the human psyche before being connected to everyone.

Living offline changed me in many ways that I didn’t even see coming. For the first few days, I needed to get online, I wanted to look up something. I wanted to type in the commands and the search strings that would get me exactly what I wanted, how I wanted it, where I wanted it. Without that power, for a few days, I was utterly lost because I didn’t know how to cope after that power had been taken away.

Even though I felt as though I was going to back down on the first few days, I gave it a shot still, and kept on with the challenge.

The fact is, the Internet is a requirement, especially for the disabled. I experienced much frustration simply because I could no longer do something so basic, such as hooking up a landline phone because I couldn’t download the manual from the website. I had to rely on the sighted population more than I have ever needed to.

This is because there isn’t as much accessible information offline as there is on the Internet. On the Internet I can look up any news I want to look up or any manual, for that matter. Take news content: Writers are not filtered by space and advertising columns so they can pepper the Web page with in-depth reporting and I could read it all.

Mainstream offline media doesn’t tell you about all the news that’s happening or the kind of topics people want to know. The fact is, people want to know. On the radio and TV everything is delegated by space and time. When you have limited options to get information, information becomes a need, not a luxury. I had to cope with losing that by asking more questions from other people and relying on their answers. Sometimes, it was effective. Other times, it left me feeling as if I was being denied information simply because I didn’t use the Internet.

We live, however, in a world that needs the Internet. I learned that the hard way when I didn’t get hired for a job because I couldn’t use the Internet. It really has shocked me how it’s turned into an unclassified utility. Sure, apartment owners are saying it is a utility but not the government, not the people higher up. It should be. Why? Because I know what it’s like, as a disabled person, to live without the Internet for one month. A disabled life without Internet is not a completely independent world. The Internet breaks down barriers, even if we can’t see them.

About Robert Kingett

Robert Kingett is a journalist and author who writes and speaks about many subjects including LGBT and disability rights. His journalism work has appeared in several magazines, websites, and anthologies. He is the creator of Gaming Glimpse Magazine, a monthly publication that explores diversity in the gaming community as well as the founder of the Accessible Netflix Project. His memoir, entitled Off the Grid, is an account of living blindly without the Internet. You can find him on his personal blog at https://blindjournalist.wordpress.com/
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4 Responses to A month off the grid. Living blindly without Internet

  1. Pingback: A month off the grid. Living blindly without Internet | Display Braille Seller Online

  2. Beth says:

    Perusing manuals online can be a two-edged sword. Often, with tech products and appliances, mainstream manuals are unusable for the totally blind, since pictures are referred to with abandon. Finding the English instructions among those in other languages can be a struggle also.

  3. Jake says:

    Great post Robert, and it’s nice to have you posting here. This entry reminds me of the few times I’ve been without Internet access. The most recent of these times was just a short month ago, when I was having some kind of odd iCloud issue that seemed to effect a lot of things. But the issue has since been resolved and I am now surfing once again. Part of the problem was the wiring here in my apartment. But this apartment building is going to be renovated very soon, so I think that should help out a lot. I truly missed my daily ritual of checking email and such every morning after showering and that kind of thing. Can you tell I’m in love with my MacBook? Lol!

  4. don Horn says:

    Since I was born in 1959, I spent much of my life without Internet access. I wouldn’t want to go back to doing that, but, of course, at the time, the world was a very different place. In some ways, I suspect the experience you had was very similar to what I had prior to the Internet becoming so much a part of our lives, though I would also say that some things which now require Internet access were done differently in the past. I’m a rehab counselor and I work with blind adults from 18 to retirement age. It’s interesting to reflect on how things have changed over the 25 years I’ve held this job. One thing I’ll say is that today’s blind youth seem less likely to find solutions to problems which arise; often, their first course of action is to try to find out who is legally responsible for solving the problem rather than simply solving it themselves. For instance, I have a client who, when her class was moved to a new room on the first day of the semester, told the professor that she did not attend because she needed to arrange for mobility instruction so that she could learn her route. I don’t think that would ever have occurred to me back when I was a student; I would have walked over with another student and then figured out the route. With that said, I would never want my clients to have to live without all of the fabulous technological advances we have experienced in recent years. I’m thrilled that I don’t need as much sighted assistance as those who came before me simply because today’s technology can facilitate my independence if I allow it to do so.

    Thanks for an interesting and thought provoking post.

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