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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 September 2007, 08:37 GMT 09:37 UK
Pulling the plug on the internet
Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology correspondent, BBC News

Could you survive for 72 hours without the internet?

Bunch of cables
Pulling the plug on the net wasn't easy

Until recently, this would have been a daft question. But two thirds of British homes are now on the net and we spend more of our time surfing than any other Europeans.

So I decided it was time for some cold turkey. As someone who spends far more time online than the 34.4 hours a month UK average (I reckon I clock that up in under a week) I wanted to find out how I would cope without the indispensable tool of 21st Century life.

At home, at work, and on the move, I use the web and email to work, rest and play. Here is how I coped without it:


Queue outside a post office
Getting tax offline meant some old-fashioned queuing

As I go offline, I am in the middle of three Facebook scrabble games and have a stack of e-mails awaiting a response.

They'll all have to wait.

On a normal weekend, I would check my blackberry for e-mail and do a little light surfing even before putting the kettle on. Instead, I cook a full breakfast and plough through the papers.

My wife, already glued to her laptop, informs me that someone has written on my Facebook wall. Am I interested?


Later, I realise that it is time to renew my car tax, which can now be done on the internet. But that is out of bounds - so I climb on my bike and head to the Post Office. Seeing the length of the queue, I head home again.

Without the internet, I find other activities to fill the day. I have been making slow progress through a book on Britain in the 1950s - now I charge through fifty pages of fascinating stuff about an era when people made their own fun.

Then off for my weekly jog around the park - sadly without the podcast of Mark Kermode's weekly film rant, which I've been unable to download.


Rory was driven back to baking

Reading this morning's papers I spot an unlikely description of a former colleague as "erudite". Desperate to share this gem with another old mate, I reach for the blackberry, and then realise that's out of bounds. How can you function as a 21st century gossip without the net?

I realise that the wireless network in my house is humming with the online activity of the other occupants. As an experiment, I switch it off.

Within 30 seconds, my 17 year old son is coming downstairs from his lair to find out what's happened to the internet. After failing to persuade him that it would be an act of solidarity to join his father's ordeal I switch it back on.

Later, in a bizarre fit of domesticity, I decide to make an apple cake. I would normally hunt down a recipe online - but instead find one in an ancient recipe book at the back of the dresser. Amazingly, the cake turns out fine, even without digital assistance.


Rory Cellan-Jones
Coping in the office was hard but meant no time-wasting

So I have survived 48 hours at home without too much pain - but will I cope in the office? I need to head off to interview someone and that usually means checking out the address with Streetmap.co.uk or Google Maps. Still, a battered A-Z on a colleague's desk sorts me out.

But it is nigh on impossible for a modern (or even ancient) journalist to operate without the internet.

As I try to understand the appeal and importance of Halo 3, the new blockbuster video game, I ring a couple of old contacts. But it would have been quicker to glean the essential facts and assess what gamers think by scanning a few blogs.

When I am called by an editor about another story, he is horrified to hear about my offline experiment - and refuses to believe I can do the job without it.

Mind you, by the end of the day, I've achieved quite a lot, without the constant distraction of irrelevant e-mails and random web surfing.

Finally, I turn on my laptop and power up my blackberry. I find 165 e-mails waiting for me - many of which I know I can delete without even reading. Oh, and my online scrabble friends are getting very impatient about my next move.

So what has my offline experiment taught me? That the internet can be a magnificent way of wasting time when you could be getting on with something else. But having tried life in the digital dark age, I am happy to be back in the 21st century.

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