Ah, the Internet. Everyone uses it these days, and most of them have access to ever-present broadband connections. It’s convenient, it’s usually fast, and generally more efficient. It opens up a whole world of information and services that was previously so hard to access before.
This blanket assumption has led to a lot of companies moving their services online, including the British government; anything from voter registration to the controversial Universal Credit system. It has also inspired many software developers to design their products so that it needs frequent communication with the company server – to phone home, as it is commonly known. All well and good, unless you live in a rural area, genuinely have no need of internet access on your main computer (preferring a mobile device, for instance)… or someone decides to cut down your phone line.
This happened to me over the weekend, and it was quite an eye-opening experience.
On Saturday morning, I noticed the TalkTalk router in my bedroom was showing fewer green lights than normal. Frowning, I looked at my cordless phone – and noticed that the display read “No line”. Checking for a dial tone revealed that there was none. Instinctively I looked outside my bedroom window, where there was a nearby telephone pole that connected me to the outside world, and noticed the cable was conspicuous by its absence.
After initial thoughts of “What the hell’s happened here?!”, I unplugged my S3 from the charger and turned it on, being grateful that it was on a TalkTalk contract, and went straight for the “My TalkTalk” app, finding with relief that there was an option to report a fault. After my ritual checking of Facebook, which I tend to do on my phone anyway, I decided to turn on my main computer and run a few experiments.
Today’s experiment: What software can I run without internet access?
I do quite a lot of different things on my main rig. I have games installed alongside writing software, as well as several Microsoft programs (mainly Office 365, but also Live Essentials that I’d hoped would make my blogging experience a bit easier). Without waiting over half an hour for Sims 2 to load up, what I felt like doing on there was now pretty limited.
Steam supposedly has an offline option. When I tried loading a game, however, the first thing it tried to do was update Steam. Without internet access, I had to hit Cancel – and the program closed.
Project 64 does work, but the MotionInJoy driver powering my PS3 controller doesn’t. It has a “local” option, but it wouldn’t load. Controller didn’t register with Project 64, and playing something like Banjo Tooie with a keyboard isn’t my idea of fun.
Surprisingly, Office 365 does work. So does Movie Maker, which was good as I needed to edit some college videos (until I realised that something I needed to do couldn’t be done with that). At least some college work was possible.
I hadn’t got round to re-installing Sims 4 since upgrading to Windows 8.1, which was just as well considering I needed Origin to be online for it to work.
Ah yes, Windows 8. Something else that insists on relying as much on internet access as it thinks it can get away with – unless you learn a few tricks to make it more useful offline. I took advantage of some of those as soon as I upgraded, and I had never been more grateful for that than I was over this weekend.
I tried running Eclipse to work on a college project, except college uses Kepler and I run Luna – which threatened to upgrade my workspace and make it unusable at college. Couldn’t download an older version, so that was out of the window too.
Luckily I had some story ideas floating around in my head, and decided now was as good a time as any to type them up. Discovered with relief that Scrivener works just fine once it’s activated, so I spent most of the weekend doing that, in between going for walks to build up for a sponsored charity walk (more on that in another post).
Bear in mind, I’m only talking about a few pieces of software that I own. Plenty more out there is still independent; I’m only writing about this to show that it still needs to be an option.
Modern technology: A double-edged blade
Above I’ve pointed out a glaring problem with modern software, but as I wrote further up, I used a smartphone to report the problem in the first place. Not even making a phone call – I wasn’t even sure TalkTalk were open during the weekend, but the texts they sent me in response shows that at least one department was open. They provide an app that can be used on their mobile phones, and I used that to let them know there was a problem.
Come Monday, their latest text asked me to call them, so I used my mobile to call the help desk. The assistant told me the problem had been escalated, with an estimated turnaround of about 24-72 hours. Thankfully the engineer turned up the next day, I showed him the absence of phone cable, and a few hours later the team fixed me up with a new one. I’m now back online and writing this post on my computer, rather than trying to type on a tiny touch-keyboard.
Modern technology really is a great thing. We’ve come a long way since the times I needed to pop out to the nearest phone box to make a call, or consult a huge volume of books in order to learn things. However, we’ve become so reliant on being connected, we don’t think what might happen if we get cut off for some reason – like flood, fire, or someone cutting your phone line.