Disconnected 3


Disconnected network cable

Without one of these (or wifi) life can get pretty difficult… unless you don’t let it.


Since my last blog update I’ve had very little time to work on my blog. First I had a close friend from the US visiting, and then we both went to Vienna for a week. Most of the time we were hanging out, and the little time I spent at my computer was used to work on other projects (the ones that do make money).

Trip to Vienna

Vienna is a pretty nice city, and one where I could see myself living in thirty years or so. It lacks the vibrancy and underground nightlife of Budapest, but in exchange it offers a city centre filled with gorgeous monumental buildings, many museums, high-class coffee shops, and other trappings for the well-off-but-not-too-adventurous. As is to be expected in a Germanic country, everything is well-organised and efficient. Vienna is also expensive as hell (for the part of the world where it’s situated), so I wouldn’t immediately recommend it as a home base for young internet entrepreneurs.

My stay in Vienna didn’t yield a whole lot of interesting material to write about–for reviews of museums and restaurants I’d refer you to TripAdvisor. Therefore I’ll post instead about a somewhat interesting experience I had during my last day in Poland a few weeks ago. Poland has a very modern communications infrastructure. In fact so modern, that I had come to rely on it completely without noticing. I had been couch surfing most of the time with hosts who had high-speed wifi in their homes. The few hotels that I’d been using also had excellent internet. And even in buses or public spaces I regularly found a free internet connection.

Reliance on Internet

The abundance of easy internet access had made me unwittingly more reliant on online or cloud-based services than I would like. I would have the address of my next accommodation starred on Google Maps rather than memorised. I would figure out my bus and train connections from my smartphone as I went. Even my writings were stored exclusively online.

Internet cafe

Good old-fashioned internet cafe.

Then one night I stayed with a CouchSurfing host, Maja, who didn’t have wifi internet at home. She had internet access at work, and at home she preferred to read, relax, and spend time with friends, rather than checking her Facebook updates. I respect her choice (and sometimes wish I had more of those totally disconnected moments, like when I was on Koh Chang Noi). But at the same time this presented me with a problem. I didn’t have a clue about how to get to my next destination (in the Czech Republic), nor where to stay when I got there. Also, I might have had to print a bus or train ticket, which I wasn’t able to do at my host’s place.

So I looked for one of those ancient relics of connectivity that I hadn’t used for over 10 years: an internet café. Fortunately for me, they still exist. In the café I was quickly able to find a private company that organised bus connections to my next destination, so I went ahead and booked a ticked. But instead of getting the ticket immediately for download, they would send it to my e-mail address…

When all else fails…

Then I realised that getting into my e-mail address from a public computer was more of a challenge than I had expected. Being so used to accessing my e-mail on my laptop or phone, I didn’t remember the password. I do have a password manager for that… only it was on my laptop as well, which I hadn’t brought to the café. So I had to access the password manager’s website, go through a host of security questions (some of which I didn’t remember), to finally get into my mailbox. But nothing there from the bus company. At this point all I could do was call the bus operator on the phone, only to hear that they were closed at that hour.

I had a bus reservation made and paid for, just no ticket. Not having many options left, I used my camera to take some screenshots of my reservation and payment confirmation, and I wrote down the address of the bus stop and how to get there. I decided I’d just have to wing it the next day.

The next morning Maja was kind enough to call the bus company and deal with them in Polish. She managed to confirm my reservation and payment, and got a reservation number that I could give the driver instead of a ticket. Armed with my number I headed for the bus… which didn’t show up at the scheduled time. Fortunately there was one other passenger waiting, who also hadn’t received his e-ticket. This put me somewhat at ease about the situation. When the bus finally showed up (with a 50-minute delay) my reservation number was indeed accepted as sufficient, and my fellow-passenger and I were driven to our destination safely.

Conclusions

Now none of this may sound very dramatic, and it wasn’t; a) because it all worked out in the end; b) because there was never that much at stake; worst case scenario I would have had to stay in town for another night. But it did make me realise how dependent I had become on always having an internet connection. And there are situations where the outcome could be worse.

So in the future I will try to create a more resilient system of information and connectivity. If I get disconnected from the internet again, that shouldn’t be a big deal. There is still some work I can do offline, provided that I have the right tools and information with me. Being disconnected should never prevent me from reaching the places I intend to see or meeting the people I want to meet. And even if both my internet and phone connection fail, I should still be able to get to a hotel or the home of a friend without too much trouble.

I’ll keep you posted on what I come up with. Meanwhile, any suggestions are welcome in the comments.

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3 thoughts on “Disconnected

  • Tony

    On my last trip I synchronized my entire dropbox folder with travel information to my iPhone for offline use using Goodreader, did the job for me, mostly anyways.

    T.

  • Arnold Vulto

    Dear Martijn, although this was a bad experience for you, I experience such happenings almost every day. In my work environment, everybody relies on immediate availability of online services, which is just not true. We had a situation where the drug prescription system was down for 2 days: a disaster and a tremendous risk for patient safety. Today I had to discuss some work with a colleague, which we couldn’t because “Corsa was down”. Last week I needed some service, but it only told me it was down for 8 hours due to maintenance etc etc. I drives me mad, make me nervous as I cannot do my work properly, and indeed, it is not merely dependence: I experience it as an absolutely unwanted dictatorship.
    I hate that IT managers now are limiting very seriously the way I can work. I don’t wanne go back to parchment and feather, but the vulnerability of everyday life is frightening me (not the least as many people – like my students – now use it as an excuse that they cannot fullfil their commitments: Blackboard was down). Remember the old days, that kids were late in school due to an opened bridge or closed railway passing? Now IT problems are becoming the excuse disease of 2014.

  • Martijn Post author

    @Tony: That sounds like a good tip. I’ll check it out.

    @Arnold: I think your experiences and mine illustrate a common problem: that IT offers some excellent opportunities and can make life easier, but that over-reliance on IT leads to vulnerability. Not often enough do we stop and ask the question: “but what if [insert your favourite IT system here] fails?” Being able to deal with that question effectively means you have a robust system.