Living Offline

2014-08-19 17.25.29Debbie and I have been staying at a holiday village called ‘The Bay’ just to the south of Filey on the east coast and a short walk away from a superb beach.  It’s an idyllic spot, designed to look just like a traditional ‘cottage style’ village but with all mod-cons, it’s very well done.  Except for one big issue, no internet access in any form, in fact not even a mobile phone signal most of the time.  The village pub does offer Wi-Fi so there’s an option for the desperate (but it’s busy and noisy) and Filey itself has a reasonable 3G signal, but it’s been an interesting experience coping without pervasive coverage the last 5 days.

As is my normal habit, even when I’m on holiday I like to do 2-3 hours of work a day to stay on top of the tech news, keep my email under control, keep my research ideas chugging along and write this blog.  But even if I didn’t need to work I would still struggle though. Pervasive internet access has insinuated itself deeply into my working practices in such a way that I’ve been constantly caught out.  I’ve been stumbling through the week trying to plan my way from one location to the next and from one device to another:

Hmm, I’ll do the jobs that require a laptop at the pub, then I’ll take my iPad with me to the Country Park cafe and scan my RSS feeds to read offline later, oops I forgot to download my next book onto my Kindle and I can only do that over Wi-Fi, and on it goes.

Having all these devices that are designed to stay in sync works great when everything can work in the background all the time.  Moving all my data to the cloud works great when those cloud connected apps can get to it.  But with one or two hours internet access a day and no planning in advance this is what the week has felt like:

  1. It’s exam results week and so we had to drive into Scarborough to be confident of being able to talk to Tess on the phone at home and Anna in Italy over Skype (both worked and the kids did great)
  2. I finished the third book in the series of nine that I’m reading in the evening on my Kindle, but couldn’t download the next one on my Kindle 3G (which amazingly has 2G access) because I’d set downloads to only work over Wi-Fi and I couldn’t change the setting via the Amazon web site because the internet access was too slow
  3. I lost my place on another book because my page position didn’t sync from another device I’d left at home
  4. I’d written a whole load of notes up in SimpleNote but I couldn’t get access to them.  The same thing happened to documents that I’d carefully filed away in Evernote, but not stored in notebooks I’d marked as offline on my iPad
  5. I like to keep a photo diary in Instagram, but it only allows me to post new pics when it’s got a connection.
  6. One of my daughters was in China and coming home this week, Instagram is one of the few apps that China allows, so we have been following her progress and chatting with her that way.   Unfortunately we had to wait many hours to know she was home safe.

I could go on for another page with lots of little annoyances, stupid ‘first world problems’.  It’s not the problems so much though, it’s the fact that over the last 5 years I’ve gone from being very confident in my ability to work offline, to ‘crippled’,  goodness knows what would happen to the world if we lost connectivity, for real, for a few days. 

All was not lost though, some apps worked flawlessly, in particular Instapaper and Email that both worked completely seamlessly regardless of whether an internet connection was present or not, syncing quietly in the background.  Instapaper works the way all apps should aspire to whether it’s synching new items to read, updated folder contents, articles saved to Evernote or tweeted, everything just works buffers up offline and then happens automatically when online.

I’ve learnt a few lessons worth noting down:

  1. Having an offline client on my PC for SimpleNote is a really good idea, I’d previously been pretty smug about the fact that I only used the web client.
  2. Making sure that my reading positions are all synced on the Kindle apps that I take with me
  3. Checking that I have the Evernote notebooks offline and synced
  4. Making sure that I don’t update the same notes in Evernote and SimpleNote on multiple devices while both are offline,  oops lost a few changes there!
  5. Making sure that I have books queued up on my Kindle and Kindle Apps
  6. Putting a bit of music on my laptop in case Spotify’s not available is a good idea
  7. Keeping an SD card full of TV shows with me, just in case I can’t get to Netflix or Plex, saves on DVD costs or the need to watch TV adverts (oh my, was that a terrible experience)

There are some short term thing’s I’d like to fix as well, in particular Twitter and Instagram clients that support offline posting and then background sync. 

Of course all these problems are transitionary in nature, having always on access to everything has made me lazy.  I’m sure I could adjust to working practices that worked with very intermittent internet access just fine.  In fact given a few weeks and no need to work I could adjust to no internet access and no computers and just enjoy these beautiful surroundings and a good selection of books from the library.  After all that’s all I had when I first fell in love with Filey 20 years ago.

The photo is of the apartment we stayed in at Filey Bay holiday village, it’s hard to believe that they designed it without community Wi-Fi and have no plans to add it.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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