To all those who doubted it was possible: I did it! I was offline for one whole week!
My Offline Activities:
I read the print version of The Wall Street Journal (I found it discarded in the street).
I stood under the 118 degree Fahrenheit daytime sun in Death Valley for two whole minutes before diving back into my idling Prius.
I cleansed my clothes of filth in the machines of the Hollywood Madam, Heidi Fleiss, at Dirty Laundry in Pahrump, Nevada.
I must confess that near the beginning of the week I fell off the wagon and went online in a Westwood Cafe. After a guilty couple minutes I looked up and sitting across from me eating panini and sipping Orangina was Laurence Fishburne. He was looking right at me and I took it as a sign and got out of there before he could recruit me in a Matrix-like war against the controllers of the true nature of reality. After all, I’d come for a vacation not more skirmishes with patriarchy!
So I turned off, tuned out and dropped in on hard on meatspace starting with Death Valley. Trying to walk around in lethal heat is an excellent way to ground yourself in your physical body. It was impossible to think about anything except what my body needed to survive. But within seconds of returning to the air conditioned comfort of the car I began to wonder at what exact conditions created the rainbow colours in the rock formations. And what the temperature statistics were. I vaily punched buttons on my quaint 80 era Prius onboard computer hungrily searching for answers. All it could tell me is that it was 118 degrees and the air conditioning was on full over and over and over again.
The yearning for online search continued past Death Valley. I channelled a lot of my search desire into my new GPS unit – which I suppose was a bit of cheating. I found myself searching out of idle curiosity for the frequency of Starbucks vs IHOPS in Nevada and the distance between Target department stores in California. The GPS was a necessary evil however so we could rapidly locate Heidi Fleiss’ laundromat in Pahrump: Dirty Laundry. Sadly we found out that Heidi is far too busy with her flock of pet parrots and new brothel for women (Janes instead of John’s?) to touch base much with her Dirty patrons. I did, however, fully enjoy her brothel-themed decor replete with garish ceilings and mirrored bathroom floor.
The pinnacle of my search pain came when we hit Las Vegas. We actually had to walk into hotel’s without first searching for prices and availability online! The horror of it all peaked when we ended up at Excalibur instead of in my regular Vegas stomping grounds in the Glitter Gulch. We made the best of it by pillaging the all you can eat buffet More and demonstrating for them what their advertisements advocate: “Less is not more, More is more.”
So I did survive a week offline. But, at the same time, my trip would have only been greatly enriched if I had been connected. While we navigated the desert floor, left hand written questions for Madame Fleiss and tried to stay off the strip in Vegas – my yearning for Google remained constant. Was I merely an addict in withdrawal? Or is search just another technology of privilege like air conditioning and washing machines that shapes my reality? I can live without it but, like going back to sweltering and week long wash rituals, it seems punitive and I’ve done nothing wrong. (Well, besides reap the benefits of colonialism and whiteness, of course).
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the first Twitter post I read when connecting today was about search. It seems Microsoft is all set to by Powerset semantic search for $100 million, give or take.
Powerset describes itself as revolutionizing search with semantic or full phrase searches. It sure is a sexy idea. However after using Powerset for months I am more bored than turned on. I think semantic search is far harder to pull off and deliver than what they have sold to their investors. They have made semantic search synonymous with the future of online search in order to get the attention of big investors. This tactic has worked to lure in Microsoft. But, as I have often described, search is part of our culture. The skills and needs of search users have surpassed any easy categorization or one-trick revolution. Semantic search is certainly part of the future of search – but the best Powerset and thus Microsoft can hope for is a niche – not domination.
Microsoft’s perfunctory purchase of Powerset to reverse the post-YahooFAIL investor anxiety can be contrasted quite starkly against Google’s functional and subdued rolling out of semantic-y options like question answering and fill in the blank searches. Building on top of what it has, Google doesn’t have to spend $100 million to buy into what it already owns: search.
Google’s connotative meaning is the real battleground. It is unsurprising that the Microsofties don’t prioritize it because cultural wars are too disturbingly complex to parse into believable profit-winning scenarios. But my entire week offline was haunted by one branded exclamatory refrain: I wish I could Google this!
Search sites that are far more interesting than Powerset: