Embracing Offline-First Technology by@zachflower

Embracing Offline-First Technology

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Zachary Flower

Impostor.

Remember when using The Internet was a chore? You had to wait for hours before the one family computer was free, and when you finally did get on it, everything was so damn slow you had no choice but to exercise a degree of patience no child should be capable of. Email, The World Wide Web, multi-user dungeons, chat rooms... everything that we did had an air of mystery and excitement to it.

Oh, Memories

I loved it, and it wasn't long before that mystery turned into curiosity, and that curiosity turned into education, and then finally a career.

The Internet of the nineties and early aughts made me who I am today, but that place no longer exists. Somewhere along the way it became something... else. The Wild West was tamed, and the signal eventually gave way to noise. Corporations capitalized on the instant access to their victims customers, and the attention economy was born.

I write a lot about my relationship with modern technology. As a member of the generation that grew up during the proliferation of The Internet, I have a very confusing set of childhood memories. Ones where I spent all my time outside, while somehow also spending all my time in front of a computer.

I think the isolation of The Internet to the beige box in our home office kept my relationship with it pretty healthy. I got to learn and explore, experiment and tinker, but at the end of the day my connection with it was cut off. It wasn't in my pocket, or on my nightstand, or in my television.

It was over there.

A place I could visit, but not live in.

Start With "No"

Like many people, I have a habit of oscillating between two extremes when faced with an unhealthy habit: I'm either living somewhere in the 19th century, or I'm living in the future. There's no real in-between, and like fad diets and self-help books, the resulting whiplash between the two states ultimately leaves me feeling empty and untethered (and, in many ways, worse off than before I started).

So, over the past few months, I've been slowly formulating my own personal guidelines around how I use technology in the healthiest and most beneficial way possible. Okay... guidelines is a bit of a stretch.

In reality, it's more of a singular rule; a pre-made decision to keep me balanced and—perhaps more importantly—sane:

When given the choice between an "online" solution and an "offline" solution, prefer the offline one.

Finding Balance

Somewhere between smartphones and smart fridges, we lost the plot. Nobody needs an Alexa-powered kitchen faucet, or a wireless oven, or any of the other "smart" crap being peddled to us every day. Adding The Internet to an everyday piece of technology doesn't make it more powerful, it just makes it more fragile, addictive, and expensive.

To paraphrase an oft-quoted scene from Jurassic Park, "our scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

It's taken me a while to get here, but thanks to the ubiquity of data-hungry and privacy-invasive platforms, I have started to default to an offline-first stance when judging the value of technology. Don't get me wrong, there really is value to be found on Ye Olde Interwebs, but it should be used as a tool, not a way of life.


Also published at flower.codes.


Remember when using The Internet was a chore? You had to wait for hours before the one family computer was free, and when you finally did get on it, everything was so damn slow you had no choice but to exercise a degree of patience no child should be capable of. Email, The World Wide Web, multi-user dungeons, chat rooms... everything that we did had an air of mystery and excitement to it.

Oh, Memories

I loved it, and it wasn't long before that mystery turned into curiosity, and that curiosity turned into education, and then finally a career.

The Internet of the nineties and early aughts made me who I am today, but that place no longer exists. Somewhere along the way it became something... else. The Wild West was tamed, and the signal eventually gave way to noise. Corporations capitalized on the instant access to their victims customers, and the attention economy was born.

I write a lot about my relationship with modern technology. As a member of the generation that grew up during the proliferation of The Internet, I have a very confusing set of childhood memories. Ones where I spent all my time outside, while somehow also spending all my time in front of a computer.

I think the isolation of The Internet to the beige box in our home office kept my relationship with it pretty healthy. I got to learn and explore, experiment and tinker, but at the end of the day my connection with it was cut off. It wasn't in my pocket, or on my nightstand, or in my television.

It was over there.

A place I could visit, but not live in.

Start With "No"

Like many people, I have a habit of oscillating between two extremes when faced with an unhealthy habit: I'm either living somewhere in the 19th century, or I'm living in the future. There's no real in-between, and like fad diets and self-help books, the resulting whiplash between the two states ultimately leaves me feeling empty and untethered (and, in many ways, worse off than before I started).

So, over the past few months, I've been slowly formulating my own personal guidelines around how I use technology in the healthiest and most beneficial way possible. Okay... guidelines is a bit of a stretch.

In reality, it's more of a singular rule; a pre-made decision to keep me balanced and—perhaps more importantly—sane:

When given the choice between an "online" solution and an "offline" solution, prefer the offline one.

Finding Balance

Somewhere between smartphones and smart fridges, we lost the plot. Nobody needs an Alexa-powered kitchen faucet, or a wireless oven, or any of the other "smart" crap being peddled to us every day. Adding The Internet to an everyday piece of technology doesn't make it more powerful, it just makes it more fragile, addictive, and expensive.

To paraphrase an oft-quoted scene from Jurassic Park, "our scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

It's taken me a while to get here, but thanks to the ubiquity of data-hungry and privacy-invasive platforms, I have started to default to an offline-first stance when judging the value of technology. Don't get me wrong, there really is value to be found on Ye Olde Interwebs, but it should be used as a tool, not a way of life.


Also published at flower.codes.

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