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Living offline: Internet monopoly tough to deal with


Published in the Daily Illini October 24th, 2011


The living quarters that my housemates and I enjoy is a cozy little space, but it is still missing one essential interior piece of decor: the Internet bouncing off our walls. This lifestyle choice could be seen as a consequence of considerable laziness, but we choose to see it as an experiment in academic and personal restraint through a living technique we’ve dubbed “technological minimalism” (“Internet-deprived” to all the haters).

Using the Internet and email is an unspoken requirement at the University. It is the umbrella that all students and faculty stand under. So the question is: Are we willing to sleep outside in the rain? When I tell people that we don’t have the Internet at our house, they seem confused, wondering “How?” and “Why?” We depend on campus buildings and close friends’ connections to get by, but new challenges are threatening our determined (or stubborn) interior design experiment of an Internet-free home.

The first is to find a provider that is neither Comcast nor AT&T, because so far we’ve enjoyed not paying into the wallets of mega-corporations, whose slow, overpriced servers would compliment our living room like a Cubist painting: They would open up access to new perspectives (information online), but unreliable shapes and forms (connectability) could interfere with a cohesive work pattern.

The lack of dependable loading speed (and bad customer service) is due in part to these two providers’ utter control over the market and the lack of competition. This year the Supreme Court ruled in favor of AT&T’s proposed $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile, a stirring example the further consolidation of the largest Internet and wireless providers into textbook monopoly form.

The quantity of choices we have for Internet service directly influences the quality of the product on demand. Since few companies control this large and growing market, we the consumers are forced to accept an unchallenged industry-wide price-to-service standard. But fortunately a fellow decorator claimed to have spotted a rusted-out white delivery van riding around town with a local Internet company’s shiny new advertisement on it. Does a third option exist that could give our home aesthetic a riskier, unexpected touch? (I could research the company online, but I am writing this from home).

The looming challenge in our experiment is enduring the cryptic winter chill everyday as an Internet prerequisite. This reality has certainly thrown the same question into all of our minds: “Are we willing to push our ideological slap to the Internet monopolies this far? Should we redesign our plans in favor of the Web, rather than having to make the trek to campus every morning?” Our scheme is righteous in theory but could be very painful in practice.

Our lives in the Internet-free home will surely be tested in the frigid days to come. Until this point, we’ve made the necessary adaptations that come with minimizing our Internet usage. The pressure of dwindling provider options, mixed with the chilly winter air, may ultimately rekindle our efforts at some technology remodeling.

It has been a revealing experience calling into question our dependence on technology and realizing that many people need it to mediate their relationships with other people. Our form of technological minimalism is a decor style that seeks to build complexity from the ground up, starting with human conversations in the real world. We do not want the Internet until it is absolutely needed, which has proven to be a refreshing challenge. This experiment has brought into awareness our dependence on the Internet, but has also taught us how not to take it for granted when we find ourselves in its presence.






Jean Michel
Hoffman



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Jean Michel is a film and theatre director, writer and artist based in New York City.
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Mark